March 16, 2021
A Lebanese social media project goes viral with a simple message: The world sucks. Make it better.
Watch the GZERO World episode: Is the US Misjudging the Middle East's Power Shifts? Vali Nasr's View
A Lebanese social media project goes viral with a simple message: The world sucks. Make it better.
Watch the GZERO World episode: Is the US Misjudging the Middle East's Power Shifts? Vali Nasr's View
Is the EU playing it safe or prolonging the agony? With Brexit talks still deadlocked in the 11th hour (and in the 11th month, at that) the European Union is taking no chances. Brussels on Thursday unveiled an emergency plan that aims to keep UK-EU trade and travel moving even in the event of the dreaded "no deal" scenario in which there's no agreement at all governing nearly $1 trillion in cross-Channel annual trade. The EU's contingency plan would require UK consent, and cover travel by air and road, shipping, and fishing for six months. Talks between London and Brussels are still stuck on a few key points — including regulatory rules and fishing rights — and technically the two sides need to reach a deal in the next few days or the clock runs out. But does the EU's plan, which would provide cover into early next year, now undercut the urgency of reaching a deal? Having a safety net is obviously a smart idea, but listen, Boris and Ursula, we can't take any more of this. We really, really can't.
Western Sahara shake-up: President Trump announced Thursday that the US had successfully brokered another détente between Israel and a former Arab foe as part of the Abraham Accords, this time with the Kingdom of Morocco. The two states once enjoyed solid diplomatic relations; however, ties were severed in 2000 amid the bloody Second Intifada between Israelis and Palestinians. So, what does each camp gain from this normalization deal? For the Israelis, it's yet another success in gaining formal recognition from prominent players in the Arab world, helping to boost its security and economic prospects in the region. It also helps Israel create a united bulwark against Iran, a mutual foe. For the Trump administration, the deal presents an opportunity to boast of another foreign policy triumph on its way out the door. But the biggest winner is Morocco: in exchange for agreeing to establish ties with Israel, the US reversed decades of foreign policy by ignoring a long-standing UN resolution and formally recognizing Moroccan control over the contested Western Sahara, where violence recently flared between Moroccan forces and Sahrawi nomads from the Polisario Front liberation movement who have long been fighting for independence on territory claimed by Rabat. This shake-up comes as the Western Sahara is already plagued by instability and violence.
Lebanon's PM charged with negligence: Lebanon's former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, along with three veteran ministers, has been charged with negligence over the Beirut port explosion back in August that killed over 200 people, injured 6,000, and caused far-reaching damage to the capital. Diab, whose government resigned after the disaster but has served in a caretaker capacity in recent months, says that his "conscious is clean:" The former PM says that he was made aware of the explosives (nearly 3,000 tons of material) at the port in June, but that his response was hampered by inconsistent and poor warnings from relevant government agencies. Diab's camp has made clear that it will not cooperate with the courts, saying that the matter should have been handled by parliament, which has a specialized court system for trialing top government officials. To date, 37 people are being prosecuted for the devastating blast that worsened Lebanon's longtime economic and political crises.
Who's Japan's new PM? The world's third largest economy has a new prime minister after the Japanese parliament voted to elect Yoshihide Suga to the top job just weeks after Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest serving prime minister, resigned because of health problems. Suga, a former cardboard factory worker and close political confidant of Abe for almost a decade, was elected to head the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with 70 percent of the parliamentary vote. There's widespread consensus among political observers that Suga, known as a pragmatist, will seek to continue Abe's political agenda and legacy, with one commentator dubbing him an "Abe substitute." Suga's cabinet also includes many former Abe loyalists, suggesting a continuation of his policies. Japan now faces twin economic and health crises, while experts say a second wave of infection has already hit the country. One key decision for Suga is whether to move forward with the Olympic games, which Tokyo is still slated to host next summer despite uncertainty about the pandemic.
Moria refugees in limbo: More than a week since a fire ripped through the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, thousands of refugees remain in limbo, sleeping on the streets with little access to food, water, or shelter. Of the nearly 13,000 displaced refugees — who hail from 70 different countries — the Greek government has been able to resettle about 1,200 in temporary migrant camps. In part, that's because many of the migrants are refusing to go to new camps, demanding to be resettled permanently elsewhere in Europe. Moria, an overcrowded camp originally intended to house just 3,000 people, became a symbol of despair in 2015 when thousands of refugees fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and parts of Africa began arriving at the Mediterranean coast in droves in the hopes of permanent resettlement in Europe. This week, Germany said it will take in more refugee families from Greece, but as Lesbos descends into chaos (yet again), critics say the offer doesn't go far enough. The plight of Moria has long been a symbol of the deep divisions over migrant policy that continue to plague the 27-member European Union.
Lebanon's blown deadline. With their country in turmoil, Lebanon's leaders had one job. Under a plan drawn up earlier this month by France, the country's ever-squabbling sectarian political factions agreed to form a new, reform-oriented government by September 16. In exchange for that, Paris was supposed to help unlock massive amounts of foreign financial support for the crisis-wracked country. That one job proved to be too much. Clashes over key posts, and resistance from parliament speaker Nabih Berri — an ally of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group, who has criticized the French plan and called for the US to drop its sanctions against the group — scuttled the talks. As Lebanon staggers through a crippling economic crisis and the aftermath of last month's devastating port explosion, the stakes couldn't be higher. Prime Minister designate Mustapha Adib, whose job it is to form a government, says "god willing, all will be well." As Lebanon's human leadership continues to fail, God's will may be all that can help at this point.
Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:
First, who is Lebanon's new prime minister?
His name's Mustafa Adib and I had never heard of him. Apparently, he wasn't being considered for prime minister until apparently 24 hours ago. He was Lebanon's ambassador to Germany or is Lebanon's ambassador to Germany. And also, a PhD in political science. So clearly, we must like him. He can't be a bad guy. He looks basically like a technocrat. But in part, it's because Lebanon is impossible to govern and can't agree on any of the well-known and outspoken figures. And this is a massive economic challenge that they're facing. Their currency is falling apart. Their budgets, they can't fund. They had that massive explosion that's going to cost billions to rebuild Beirut. Just happened a couple of weeks ago. They're also fighting coronavirus. They have millions of refugees on their territory that they're paying for. And they don't have as much money from the Gulf states that they had historically because they're facing their own budgetary challenges. On top of which, it's really hard to get an IMF deal done when you don't have effective governance and when Hezbollah is part of your government structure.
So, it's pretty ugly. I wish this guy well. I can't imagine we're going to be hearing from him for very long. But that is the situation in Lebanon. Godspeed.
With daily COVID cases surging to record highs, why is India reopening?
Well, a couple of reasons. First, because, you know, it's a very poor country and people are getting tired and angry of a pretty significant and severe lockdown that Prime Minister Modi had originally put in place. Also, India is a relatively young country. And so even if they have lots of cases, not as many people are going to need hospitalization and mortality rates are comparatively much lower than they are in the United States or Western Europe. That matters. Also, I mean, you have so many people that are prepared to live with a threat of disease, whether it's coronavirus or others, if that means that they can work, and they can continue to provide for their families. Because the alternative, with so many people at subsistence living, is much worse. And that's particularly true when you're not even testing many people. So, you don't really understand the broad contours of the crisis. I mean, there were some recent tests in this one slum that's the largest in Mumbai, over a million people live in it, I've not gone into it, but I've driven right by it on many occasions, and that 50% of that population was shown to have some kind of antibodies for coronavirus. I mean, just ripping through that area. And yet you didn't see big demonstrations or riots about coronavirus. Where you will, if the lockdowns last for longer. It's a lot easier to engage in longer lockdown and longer quarantine in countries with a lot of money and the ability to provide continued support for their populations, like in Europe, like at least until now, the United States. Though, we'll see what happens with the Phase 4 stimulus deal. In the US is getting a lot tougher for a lot of people, too.
What's the update on Belarus? Will Lukashenko fall?
It's looking less likely. The demonstrators, nonviolent, completely nonviolent, and in some cases hundreds of thousands, certainly most cases tens of thousands on the streets for a few weeks solid now in Minsk and in some other places. But Lukashenko, the president, the dictator who stole this election, claiming 80% of the popular vote, he clearly got nowhere close to that, is now arresting, detaining and arresting journalists. He has taken away the accreditation of all of the local journalists for Western institutions. So, we're not getting the same news on the ground that we were just a couple of days ago. They've also brought in special forces and they brought in tanks into Minsk, certainly sending a very disturbing message. All of that happening on the back of President Putin, of Russia, saying that if certain red lines were crossed, that the Russians would come in and provide direct support for Lukashenko. Putin had been staying on the sidelines for weeks. He certainly does not want to engage militarily. That will undermine popularity for Russia in Belarus. But he's now providing nearly a blank check for Lukashenko. And at the end of the day, you have to believe that that makes it much less likely that the supporters of democracy on the streets in Belarus are going to succeed. Horrible to say that. Horrible to see this. But that is what it looks like right now.
Certainly, personally continuing to stand for those demonstrators and hope that they can persist and prevail. But, my God, very dangerous and very courageous. If I had a kid right now in Belarus, I wouldn't want him or her to be out there on the streets. And that's what you also have to watch out for, right? I mean, the human dimension here, it's very easy to say, "stand for them." But in many of the industries, for example, in Belarus, you had seen demonstrations, but they're not willing to risk their jobs because otherwise, how are they going to make a living? And so, they haven't persisted with the kind of grass movement action in shutting down the strike action and shutting down those places that you've seen among the population as a whole in Minsk. It does look like it's moving towards Lukashenko and towards state power.
Finally, what do I make of recent Far Right protests in Germany?
Well, you know, even in Germany, where they've done an awful lot to provide support for the middle and working class and to ensure that people continue to have the ability to take care of themselves, to meet their bills, to not get evicted from their apartments, all of that, there is a significant level of impatience with very tough lockdowns and shutdowns across Germany. That's been very wide support for Merkel and the federal system in Germany, but much better alignment among the among the federal leaders, the regional leaders in Germany, than you've seen among red and blue states in the United States, for example. Merkel's popularity remains very high consistently through the pandemic. But you also saw thousands of the far right actually demonstrating in Berlin. Opposed to social distancing. Opposed to mandatory lockdowns. It is a tiny percentage of the population compared to those sorts of sentiments in other parts of Europe and certainly in the United States. But something to watch out for, particularly something to watch out for in former eastern Germany, where that political sentiment is by far the strongest, but also a part that's done comparatively well, given the social and economic response of the German government since coronavirus has hit. So, I wouldn't worry too much about that. But clearly, something that's worth the headlines, especially as the US continues to be dominated by Trump, dominated by social racial instability, and of course, our own pandemic. So, important to be looking at the news happening around the world today, especially because this pandemic is truly global and is affecting all of us together.
GZERO World host Ian Bremmer examines the already precarious political situation in Lebanon ahead of the deadly explosion of August 4, and the road ahead for a nation that has already seen its prime minister and cabinet resign amid widespread protests and anger.
On GZERO World, Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas discusses worldwide response to the recent explosion in Beirut. On French President Emmanuel Macron's visit, she tells Bremmer reaction has been "very positive." Ghattas explains that the Lebanese people want to hear words of empathy and support from other world leaders, and also have advised, "Don't give money to the government, give aid directly to the people, to recognized organizations, to hospitals. And second, we want justice. We want an international investigation."
"Here is Lebanon, not Iran," Lebanese chanted last October, when widespread protests calling for reform of Lebanon's dysfunctional sectarian power-sharing system broke out across the country. It was a war cry meant to expose the destructive role of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group, in Lebanese politics in recent years.
Now, recent events — including the deadly explosion at a Beirut port earlier this month that killed at least 200 people and wounded thousands, as well as the country's economic tailspin — have again shined a spotlight on the role of Hezbollah within Lebanese politics and society.
What is Hezbollah, and why does it matter?
The (brief) origin story. The Hezbollah militant group, made up of the country's traditionally-marginalized Shiite Muslims, emerged amid Lebanon's bloody 15-year civil war (1975-1990).
The guerilla organization's goal was two-fold: push out Israeli troops stationed in southern Lebanon, and stop the US (and the West more broadly) from meddling in the Middle East. At the time, the nascent Islamic Republic of Iran, a Shiite theocracy which came to power in 1979, saw an opportunity to expand its clout by infusing Hezbollah with cash and weaponry — a budding partnership that flourishes till this day.
A state within a state. After the end of the civil war, Hezbollah expanded its influence over Lebanese politics and public life, with strong support from the country's Shia community. The party has held cabinet posts since 2005, and has built a network of social services including hospitals and schools that's helped the group amass increasing public support.
An unexpectedly strong stand against Israel during a brief war in 2006 also burnished the organization's image in Lebanon. In parliamentary elections held in 2018, Hezbollah's Shiite alliance together won 70 out of 128 parliamentary seats, the most seats won by any political bloc.
Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon. Thanks largely to longstanding Syrian and Iranian support, Hezbollah has managed to stash hundreds of millions of dollars, and build up military power stronger than that of the Lebanese army. The group also directly controls large swaths of Lebanese territory, some of which it seized by force in 2008.
But as Hezbollah has emerged as Lebanon's most powerful political and military force, it is now also a major target for the outrage that has been directed against the country's entire ruling class. As the situation in Lebanon continues to deteriorate, the group is even losing some support from traditionally-loyal Shiite constituents.
There are several reasons for the group's fading reputation.
Hezbollah is an impediment to the country receiving desperately-needed international aid. International donors, including the IMF, have made financial aid to Lebanon contingent on political reform. While, Hezbollah is not the only political party that's been hostile to reform, the international community's ability to give aid to a government in which Hezbollah is a major player is obstructed by the fact that the group has been designated as a terrorist organization by powerful countries including the US, Germany, and the Gulf Arab states because of its long history of attacks against Israeli, Jewish, and Western targets.
Washington's recent accusation that Hezbollah is in fact "jeopardizing Lebanon's economic recovery" has surely resonated with a growing number of disgruntled Lebanese who can barely afford to put food on the table. In recent days, protesters in central Beirut burned effigies of the Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, the most public rejection of the leader to date.
Many Lebanese are tired of Hezbollah's international escapades. As half the population has now slid into poverty, an increasing number of Lebanese are questioning why Nasrallah has devoted attention (and resources) to foreign entanglements in Syria and Yemen (at Iran's bidding) when Lebanon itself is on the brink.
What gives? Though anti-Hezbollah sentiment is soaring, there are still compelling reasons why the group could hold onto power — even as the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. For one, Hezbollah has a huge cache of guns and rockets that could be used on defectors should it feel its grip on power slipping. Additionally, the Lebanese army is made up mostly of Shiites, over whom Hezbollah also has significant influence.
Indeed, Hezbollah is a deeply immovable presence in Lebanon increasingly at odds with an unstoppable force for political change. Who will prevail?
In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.
In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.
Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.