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Morocco line-up during the 2022 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match against Portugal in Doha, Qatar.

Jose Breton via Reuters Connect

What’s it worth to crush it at the World Cup?

Whether or not underdog Morocco beats France in the World Cup semifinals on Wednesday, one thing is sure: Becoming the first African or Arab nation to get this far in the biggest sporting event on the planet stands to get Morocco more than on-field glory in Qatar.

The Atlas Lions probably didn't expect to have such an amazing run, but their overperformance is no coincidence. It’s the fruit of decades of heavy investment by the kingdom in developing its players as part of Morocco’s broader sports diplomacy.

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Badr Benoun celebrates after Morocco progress to the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar.

REUTERS/Molly Darlington

Morocco’s historic World Cup run transcends its borders

Eurasia Group's Strahinja Matejic is attending the Atlantic Dialogues conference in Marrakech, Morocco. But he decided to go a day early to join local fans who watched the Atlas Lions make World Cup history.

“Are we winning tonight?”

That was the first question a Moroccan immigration officer asked me at the Casablanca airport just hours before Morocco faced mighty Portugal in the quarter-finals of the men's soccer World Cup in Qatar.

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Paige Fusco

Frenemy face-off at the World Cup: Morocco vs. Spain

It's just a soccer game. Or maybe there’s more to it.

On Tuesday, underdog Morocco takes on 2010 champion Spain at the Qatar World Cup in what one might frame as a battle between “neighbors” in Africa and Europe, separated by barely 9 miles of the Mediterranean Sea and with a long-fraught political relationship that’s seen some recent twists and turns.

And there’s a bigger geopolitical story that goes beyond the two kingdoms.

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Gabriella Turrisi

Hard Numbers: Court denies Bolsonaro, Pelosi plans Taiwan trip, Morocco jails migrants, Ukrainian first lady visits US

20: Brazil’s top electoral court issued 20 rebuttals to President Jair Bolsonaro’s recent claim that the electronic voting system used since 1996 is vulnerable. Bolsonaro often implies he’ll dispute the result if he loses the October presidential election to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who's leading the polls by a wide margin.

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Luisa Vieira

Should NATO watch its southern flank?

As NATO leaders gather this week in Madrid for their first summit since the war in Ukraine began, they will talk mainly about the immediate bogeyman, Russia, and the long-term strategic rival, China. Meanwhile, host Spain is seizing the opportunity to get the alliance to pay at least some attention to Africa and parts of the Middle East, where Russia and jihadists are stirring up trouble that could impact Mediterranean countries.

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Images of Queen Elizabeth II are displayed on the lights in London's Piccadilly Circus to mark her Platinum Jubilee in London, 6 February 2022.

Maciek Musialek/NurPhoto

Hard Numbers: UK royal jubilee, North Korea ups weapons game, Moroccan tragedy, Costa Rican runoff

70: On Sunday, Queen Elizabeth II marked her 70th year as the British monarch, making a surprise announcement about wanting Prince Charles' wife Camilla to be named "Queen Consort" when the time comes. The UK is planning a series of Platinum Jubilee festivities this year, culminating over a long weekend in early June.

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Gabriella Turrisi

The Graphic Truth: By land or by sea — migrants head for Spain

Last week, some 400 migrants arrived on Spain's Canary Islands in a 24-hour period after making the perilous journey by boat from Africa. Up until October, migrant arrivals to the Canary Islands had surged 44 percent compared to the same period last year. While COVID-related economic crises have surely contributed to the uptick in desperate people trying to start over in the EU, this wave of migration — mainly from Morocco and Algeria — predates the pandemic, and even the 2015 refugee crisis. We take a look at the number of people who have sought refuge in peninsular Spain and the Canary Islands since 2015.

A protester is seen with face paint reading "cancel lèse-majesté law" during the protest. Pro-democracy protesters gathered at Ratchaprasong Junction in demand of Prayut Chan-O-Cha resignation and lèse-majesté law (Thai Criminal Code section 112) cancellation.

Phobthum Yingpaiboonsuk / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

What We’re Watching: Thai monarchy ruling, weed vs coke in Colombia, Moroccan olive twig

Don't mess with the Thai king. A Thai court has ruled that calls by three youth protest leaders to reform the monarchy are an unconstitutional attempt to overthrow the country's political system. Although the verdict is symbolic and won't carry a jail term, it paves the way for the activists to be tried for treason, which is punishable by death. But it's also a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the ruling is a clear warning shot to the youth-led protest movement that last year shocked Thailand by for the first time openly questioning the role of the king, a taboo subject until then. On the other, actually executing protest leaders could turn them into martyrs, driving more of their followers into the streets to face off against government forces. Regardless, the controversial notion of curbing the king's powers is now at the very center of Thai politics: it's the inevitable future for millennials and zoomers, a third-rail issue for mainstream political parties, and a non-starter for the all-powerful Rama X himself.

Can medical weed bring down the high of Colombia's cocaine industry? After decades of trying to stamp out a coca industry that has fueled violence and conflict, the Colombian government is looking to cannabis for help. President Iván Duque wants to boost the cultivation of medical marijuana as a more lucrative, eco-friendly, and less socially-damaging substitute crop for Colombian farmers. Duque, a strong opponent of decriminalizing drugs, made clear that the strategy would apply only to growing cannabis for medical rather than recreational use. He also continues to advocate aerial spraying as a means of eradicating coca crops, despite questions about the effectiveness and environmental impact of this approach. Coca cultivation in Colombia has reached record highs in recent years, as drug cartels have benefited from the poor implementation of Colombia's historic 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels, taking over drug-producing areas of the country that those militants once controlled.

An olive twig from Morocco to Algeria. Tensions between Morocco and Algeria have flared recently, over Algiers' support for separatists in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that Morocco considers its own territory. For half a century now, the militants of the Polisario Front have been waging a struggle for independent control over the region, a resource-rich swath of land blessed with plentiful fisheries that lies along a critical trade route for Morocco. Algeria has long backed the rebels as a way to needle Morocco. Earlier this year, Western Sahara figured prominently in a dispute between Morocco and Spain over migration flows to Europe. But in August, Algeria cut ties with Rabat over the issue, and last week accused Moroccan forces of killing three Algerian civilians in the area. Against that backdrop, Morocco now says it wants to "turn the page" on tensions with Algeria. But it also says that its demand for sovereignty over Western Sahara — only recognized by the US — is "legitimate" and non-negotiable. That's not quite an olive branch, but we'll call it a twig and see how this plays out.

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