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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi upon his arrival in Cairo.

Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: MBS on tour, Lithuania vs. Russia, Spain’s moderate swing

MBS makes BFFs ahead of Biden visit

With barely a month until his controversial summit with President Joe Biden, the Saudi crown prince is on a regional tour this week to show that he’s hardly the “pariah” that America’s president once promised to make him. In Jordan, Mohammed bin Salman will look to patch up a monarchy-to-monarchy relationship that became strained last year over allegations of Saudi involvement in a plot to overthrow King Abdullah II. The Jordanians hope MBS’s visit leads to a resumption of lavish Saudi financial support. In Egypt, Crown Prince Mohammed will be highlighting Riyadh’s tight relationship with the Arab world’s most populous country. Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi enjoys strong backing from the Saudis, who have gifted or invested billions of dollars in Egypt in recent years. But the most significant stop on MBS’s tour will be in Turkey, where always-dicey relations between the regional rivals nearly broke off entirely over the Saudi government’s 2018 murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. But with Turkey looking for financial help to right a listing economy, and MBS looking to shore up ties with a mercurial member of NATO, it seems that bygones are bygones.

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Johnson meets Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson in Stockholm.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: UK-Nordic security pact, Biden-ASEAN summit, King Abdullah II at the White House

Boris Johnson embraces NATO-bound Nordics

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed security declarations on Wednesday with Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö. These documents are promises that if either Nordic country is attacked, Britain will come to its aid. In return, Sweden and Finland promise the same support for the United Kingdom. Asked for specifics, Johnson said his government would offer “whatever Sweden requested" and would “share more intelligence, bolster military exercises, and further joint development of technology.” On specific weapons, the UK PM said that would be determined by what was requested. These are simply political promises, not security guarantees of the kind NATO membership offers. But this show of solidarity comes at a sensitive moment; Finland and Sweden are widely expected to announce their application for NATO membership in the coming days, and their governments have warned that the “gray zone” period between formal application and certain acceptance will leave them vulnerable to various forms of Russian aggression. Meanwhile, Russia’s offensive in Ukraine continues, and US intelligence now believes Moscow is planning for a long war with intentions of achieving “goals beyond the Donbas.”

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What We're Watching: Jordanians vote, Trump's DOD shakeup, Russian navy in Sudan

Jordan's lackluster election: Amid a massive surge in coronavirus cases, Jordanians headed to the polls this week to elect 130 members to the lower house of parliament. Of more than 4.6 million eligible voters, only 29 percent showed up, the lowest turnout in many years, largely due to fear of COVID-19, a deepening economic crisis, and disillusionment with Jordan's unrepresentative political process. The system favors pro-monarchy tribal candidates and cronies loyal to the all-powerful King Abdullah II, who appoints all Senate members and can unilaterally dissolve parliament. This time, the main opposition party, linked to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, won only 10 seats, five less than in 2016, while women candidates reaped only 15 seats, largely because of a quota system. The Jordanian Kingdom has long been accused of overseeing an electoral system that under-represents cities that are Muslim Brotherhood strongholds, favoring more sparsely populated cities that support the Hashemite monarchy. Indeed, the Jordanian government has its work cut out for it amid a surging pandemic and worsening economic crisis — on top of the burden of providing refuge for some 650,000 Syrians.

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What We're Watching: Turkey censors social media, Jordanians set to vote, China hacks the Vatican

Turkey suppresses social media: Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, likes to dominate the conversation. In power since 2003, he and his Justice and Development party have succeeded in tightening their grip on the media in recent years. More than 90 percent of the country's traditional media outlets are now controlled by companies with ties to the government. Turkey has also become one of the world's leading jailers of journalists. This media-control mission now extends into cyberspace. Since nationwide protests in 2013 and a coup attempt in 2016 threatened his hold on power, Erdogan has unleashed an army of trolls to attack critics and journalists. This week, Turkey's parliament passed legislation that forces social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to remove content the government doesn't like. To enforce the law, which takes effect on October 1, these companies are required to open offices, and store user data, inside Turkey. Failure to comply could lead to bandwidth cuts of up to 95 percent that slow their speed and make them unusable inside Turkey's borders.

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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Jordan's COVID-19 response, New Zealand's long weekend plans, Philippines' illegal hospital

Jordan's COVID-19 successes – and failures: Jordan, which imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, has fared relatively well compared to neighboring countries. To date, the country of over 10 million has recorded just nine deaths, a per capita death rate of just 0.88 per million people, compared with 32 per million in Israel and 9 in Saudi Arabia. The Jordanian government's Epidemic Committee, which is overseeing the pandemic response, has been widely praised for listening to medical professionals and delivering clear and consistent messaging to Jordanians on how to curb the disease's spread. But while the low caseload and death rate have paved the way for some businesses to reopen already, the economic impact has been severe, and critics say Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz's government hasn't done enough to help jobless Jordanians and small business owners weather the economic downturn. The Kingdom, already mired in economic crisis before the outbreak, says it just doesn't have cash on hand to offer unemployment benefits. As Jordan slowly moves from the public health phase of the crisis to the economic one, the government's challenges are only beginning. The month of Ramadan is usually the busiest shopping season, and a boon for small business owners who account for some 75 percent of Jordan's total GDP. But this year, sales in the money-making apparel sector dropped 70 percent compared to the same period last year. Jordan's economy is expected to contract around 3 percent this year because of the pandemic.

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