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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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A truck is towed from in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

REUTERS/Patrick Doyle

What We’re Watching: Canada freezes protesters’ assets, Spanish right in turmoil

Canadian protesters see accounts frozen. Authorities have started blocking accounts of people linked to Canada’s trucker convoy and protests in accordance with the Emergencies Act invoked last week by PM Justin Trudeau. Royal Canadian Mounted Police froze more than 200 financial products, including bank and corporate accounts, linked to vaccine mandate protesters who have brought chaos to Ottawa and US border crossings in recent weeks. Opposition leaders and a Canadian civil rights group question the legality of the move, which Trudeau says is necessary for restoring order. American truckers and President Joe Biden, meanwhile, will be watching closely as a similar convoy gets underway in the US this week. Plans are reportedly in place to set up perimeter fencing around the US Capitol building ahead of Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1 for fear of similar protests plaguing the nation’s capital.

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People wave separatist Catalan flags and placards during a demonstration following the imprisonment of Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart in Barcelona, Spain.

REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Why is Spain pardoning Catalan leaders jailed for sedition?

On Tuesday, Spain's leftwing coalition government will pardon nine Catalan politicians jailed over their failed attempt to secede from the rest of the country less than four years ago. It's a huge gamble for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who's fighting for his political survival against a majority of popular opinion, an opposition on the rise, the courts, and even part of the Catalan independence movement.

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What We're Watching: Israel's awkward new government, Novavax is ready to play, Spaniards protest pardons

Is Israel's new government too awkward to survive? Israel's new government was sworn in on Sunday, and for the first time in 12 years, it is not led by someone named Benjamin Netanyahu. Though Netanyahu will remain head of the opposition bloc and leader of Likud, the biggest party in the Knesset, the new government, one of the most ideologically diverse in the nation's history, represents a massive political shift in the crisis-ridden country. The new government's representatives include right-wing nationalists — like Naftali Bennet, Israel's new prime minister — and centrists like Yair Lapid who heads the influential Yesh Atid party and is responsible for bringing the coalition together. For the first time in two decades, the far-left Meretz party will also sit in the government, as will a conservative Arab party, headed by Mansour Abbas, who reversed a decades-old position by agreeing to serve in government with Jewish Zionists in the hopes of delivering for his community. There are plenty of reasons to doubt the longevity of the new government given its incoherent alliances, but on the flip side, these factions — most of which are small and would likely not have made the cut to sit in government without Lapid's deal-making — have incentives to make the government work. The first item on the agenda will be passing a national budget, the first in two years. But with a slim coalition of only 61 out of 120 Knesset seats, pulling this off won't be easy.

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Ari Winkleman

What We’re Watching: US vaccine patent U-turn, right wins big in Madrid, Biden weighs in on Russia-Ukraine

US reverses course on vaccine patents: In a surprise move, the Biden administration will now support waiving international property rights for COVID vaccines at the World Trade Organization. Until now the US had firmly opposed waiving those patents, despite demands from developing countries led by India and South Africa to do so. Biden's about face comes just a week after he moved to free up 60 million of American-bought AstraZeneca jabs — still not approved by US regulators — for nations in need. It's not clear how fast an IP waiver would really help other countries, as the major impediments to ramping up vaccine manufacturing have more to do with logistics and supply chains than with patent protections alone. But if patent waivers do accelerate production over time, then that could accelerate a global return to normal — potentially winning the US a ton of goodwill.

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