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Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Shinzo Abe — With scandals back home and an approval rating of 26.7 percent, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe needed a boost from his Mar-a-Lago meeting with President Trump. He returns to Tokyo with no waiver on US steel tariffs, no US steps back toward the Transpacific Partnership, and no guarantees Trump will remember Japan’s interests if/when he sits down with Kim Jong-un. Can Abe keep his job through a long hot summer and survive his party’s leadership election in September?


Turkey’s elections — Why call for elections on June 24 when you could wait until November 2019? Because you want to catch the opposition napping, and because you expect your leadership will look much better in two monthsthan it will next year. Turkey’s economy is headed in the wrong direction. Its adventure in Syria has reached the limits of the military’s capabilities. And there’s reason for Recep Tayyip Erdogan to fear that familiarity with his leadership will only further polarize his country. We’ll watch to see how hard he must work to win.

The Middle East’s Culture Wars — Last month, an Iranian woman was sentenced to two years in prison for becoming the latest to remove her headscarf in public. This week, the head of the department of Islamic guidance in the Iranian city of Mashhad was arrested after video appeared that showed men and women dancing together at a local shopping center. Meanwhile, Saudi filmgoers (!) ate popcorn and enjoyed screenings of the popular film Black Panther as Saudi cinemas reopened for the first time since 1979. That’s the year Saudi society became much more conservative in response to the Islamic revolution in rival Iran.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

Macron’s understanding of Trump — Following comments from French President Macron that he had convinced President Trump to keep US troops in Syria, the White House quickly reiterated its goal to withdraw troops… because Trump loves it when other people take credit for his decisions. The two men will have a chance to discuss their differences during a very interesting meeting next week.

The WhatsApp call to prayer — In response to complaints about noise pollution, authorities in Ghana are calling on Muslims to broadcast the call to prayer via WhatsApp instead of loudspeakers. I’m not Muslim, a technophobe, or a fan of cacophonous racket. But it’s a call to prayer. Maybe other sources of sound could move to quiet mode.

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It's been four days since Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, died in a hail of bullets on a highway near Tehran. Iran has plausibly blamed Israel for the killing, but more than that, not much is known credibly or in detail.

This is hardly the first time that an Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated in an operation that has a whiff of Mossad about it. But Fakhrizadeh's prominence — he is widely regarded as the father of the Iranian nuclear program — as well as the timing of the killing, just six weeks from the inauguration of a new American president, make it a particularly big deal. Not least because an operation this sensitive would almost certainly have required a US sign-off.

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Joe Biden has had one of the longest political careers in American history, but his most important act is yet to come. Can decades of experience in Washington prepare him to lead the most divided America since the end of the Civil War?

Watch the GZERO World episode: What you still may not know about Joe


Ethiopia on the brink: After ethnic tensions between Ethiopia's federal government and separatist forces in the northern Tigray region erupted into a full-blown armed conflict in recent weeks, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his forces had taken control of Tigray's capital on Saturday and declared victory. But the fugitive Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael quickly called Abiy's bluff, saying the fighting is raging on, and demanded Abiy withdraw his forces. Gebremichael accused Abiy of launching "a genocidal campaign" that has displaced 1 million people, with thousands fleeing to neighboring Sudan, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Tigray, who make up about five percent of Ethiopia's population, are fighting for self-determination, but Abiy's government has repeatedly rejected invitations to discuss the issue, accusing the coalition led by Gebremichael's Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) of "instigating clashes along ethnic and religious lines." As the two sides dig in their heels, Ethiopia faces the risk of a civil war that could threaten the stability of the entire Horn of Africa.

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110: At least 110 people were killed in Nigeria's conflict-ridden Borno state on Saturday, when armed men attacked agricultural workers as they tended their fields. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the brutal attack, but analysts say the assault was likely the work of Boko Haram or Islamic State-linked groups that have gained a foothold in the Sahel region in recent years.

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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