Watching/Ignoring

What We're Watching

Protests in Iraq – In recent days, thousands of people have hit the streets in southern Iraq to protest widespread electricity shortages and rampant government corruption. The protests come just months after an inconclusive and fraud-tainted election which is currently undergoing a recount. For the time being, a delicate governing alliance has been struck between the current prime minister, Haider Al-Abadi, and the biggest vote-getter, the fiery Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, that should make it possible to form a new government soon. Whether it can deliver the improvements needed to quell popular discontent remains to be seen.


The EU vs Hungary – The European Union has brought a formal complaint against the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for passing a controversial law that criminalizes any organization that provides aid to asylum-seekers. Brussels says the law violates EU treaties, whereas Budapest says migrants and those who help them compromise Hungary’s security. Coming alongside Brussels’ dispute with neighboring Poland over the government’s judicial power grab, the clash with Hungary raises the stakes in the EU’s deepening conflict over fundamental values and the rule of law with its increasingly nationalistic member states.

What We’re Ignoring

A little dust on the furniture in Addis – Eritrea's embassy in Ethiopia has just opened for the first time in 20 years as part of a recent watershed peace overture between the two countries, which have been in a state of war since the late 1990s. Everything in the building is just as it was when employees left in 2000, down to family photos, wine bottles, bedspreads, a scowling Peugeot 505, all under a thin patina of dust. We are ignoring the dust, which can be swifty swiffed, while remaining keenly interested to how far Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his Eritrean counterpart Isaias Afwerki can take a momentous and, until recently, deeply improbable peace process.

Trump critics’ expectations that he’ll change tack on Russia – Trump’s evident obsequiousness before Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki drew criticism from lawmakers across the political spectrum. But don’t expect much to change or for Congress to do much about it. Why? A poll taken since the Helsinki presser shows 79 percent of Republican voters approve of the way Trump handled Putin. As GOP lawmakers look ahead to this fall’s midterm elections, few are willing to substantively challenge a president whom their constituents overwhelmingly support. Trump, for his part, has already invited Putin to Washington.

Every day thousands of people legally cross back and forth between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on their way to jobs, schools, doctor's appointments, shopping centers and the homes of family and friends. This harmonious exchange has taken place for more than 400 years, uniting neighbors through shared social ties, geography, history and, most importantly, an interlinked economy.

Beyond the people and goods, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez also converge in a cross-border flow of ideas, ambition and aspirations that have shaped the region for centuries. This forward-looking spirit is what attracted Microsoft to the region in 2017, when it launched Microsoft TechSpark to create new economic opportunities and help digitally transform established industries with modern software and cloud services. It's also why Microsoft announced on Monday that it is expanding the TechSpark El Paso program to include Ciudad Juárez and making a $1.5 million investment in the binational Bridge Accelerator. Read more about the TechSpark announcement here.

Since Syria's brutal civil war began eight years ago, millions of Syrians have fled their country to escape the bombs and bullets. But hundreds of thousands have been displaced within Syria's borders, where they languish in packed refugee camps. The al-Hol camp in northern Syria is sprawling, and of its nearly 70,000 residents, some 11,000 are family members of foreign ISIS fighters, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The surprise American withdrawal from northern Syria last week paved the way for Turkey and Syria's Bashar al-Assad to move in. Some 160,000 civilians have now fled the border region that Turkey is bombarding, deepening a humanitarian crisis in a stretch of Syria that had been relatively secure since the defeat of ISIS's self-declared caliphate back in March. Here's a look at the camps for displaced people in the area.

Syria is quickly turning into US President Donald Trump's most significant foreign policy blunder to date. It's looking like it might be for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, too.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced a fresh wave of sanctions on Turkey, in a bid to get Erdogan to halt his invasion of Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria. Yes, you may recall, that's the same invasion that the US green-lit last week by withdrawing American troops from the area.

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Mozambique's democracy test Mozambicans voted yesterday in an election that will test a fragile peace accord between the ruling Frelimo party, led by president Filipe Nyusi, and Renamo, a former rebel group-turned-opposition party. The two factions were on opposite sides of a Cold War-tinged civil war that killed an estimated 1 million people between 1977 and 1992. Frelimo, which has ruled Mozambique since independence, has been losing popularity due to a corruption scandal, but is likely to hold onto power at the national level. Renamo, which foreswore violence just two months ago in exchange for electoral reforms that will help the party, will be hoping to make regional gains that allow it to win some key governorships. Disputes over the final vote count and even outright fraud or violence are possible in coming days, particularly if Renamo fails to make its hoped-for gains.

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What's the update at the Syria-Turkey border?

Well, it is increasingly in the hands of Assad and the Russians, who the Kurds have flipped with. The United States withdrawing some troops away from the border, the Turks coming in, but they going to be limited in how much they can do given the fact that ultimately, Assad and Russia has most the firepower and Turkey does not want that fight.

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