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Paige Fusco

Can a dictator make democracy work for Tunisia?

The birthplace of the Arab Spring and the only country to emerge from it as a democracy — albeit an imperfect one — is now well on its way to becoming something … different.

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Protesters rally agains the constitutional referendum in Tunis.

Mahjoub Yassine/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: Tunisian referendum, Lavrov on African tour

Tunisia holds constitutional referendum

Tunisians go to the polls Monday to vote in a referendum over the new constitution pushed by President Kais Saied. The vote is scheduled on the first anniversary of Saied sacking the government and suspending parliament in the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring. At the time, he justified the move as necessary to prevent a bigger crisis, but his opponents called it a coup; since then, Saied has consolidated power by taking it away from any institution or group that challenged him, including judges and trade unions. The president's growing dictator vibes have upset many Tunisians who initially supported him, but he still has fans among younger people tired of corruption and dysfunctional parliamentary politics. Most opposition groups have boycotted the plebiscite, so the "yes" vote is likely to win (albeit with a low turnout). If the new charter is approved, Saied promises to hold legislative elections within six months. But they'll be less decisive under the revised constitution, which vastly expands presidential power at the expense of parliament and the judiciary.

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Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia

REUTERS/Adriano Machado

What We're Watching: Bolsonaro heads to Moscow, Biden moves on frozen Afghan funds, Tunisia's dwindling democracy

Bolsonaro’s bold move. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is heading to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin despite objections from the US and his own aides about the timing, given the Ukraine crisis. But “Tropical Trump” may think the time is just right to try and boost his domestic popularity with some time on the international stage. He’s currently trailing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the run-up to Brazil’s October election. With over 600,000 COVID deaths since the panbdemic started and a battered economy, Bolsonaro also needs to bring home some bacon. Moscow recently issued a two-month ban on exports, and since Brazil is the biggest buyer of Russia’s nitrate fertilizer, Brazilian farmers are worried about their crops. Bolsonaro is expected to ask Putin to revoke the ban. If he secures the deal overseas, will it give him a boost back home?

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British PM Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQs at the House of Commons on February 02, 2022 in London, England.

Wiktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto

What We’re Watching: Boris no-confidence vote looms, Robocop vs Tunisian judges

Getting to 54. Boris Johnson is the famous comeback kid of British politics. But he may be running out of options given his myriad scandals. A wave of high-profile resignations and defections within the Conservative Party and the departure of five senior staffers have increased the likelihood that the embattled PM will soon face a no-confidence vote. Tory MPs who’ve soured on Johnson believe they are only a dozen signed letters away from the 54 needed to trigger the process as early as this week. Meanwhile, there’s growing pressure to release an unredacted version of the Gray Report about multiple parties held at 10 Downing Street during COVID lockdowns. If the full report confirms Johnson lied to parliament about attending one of the parties, expect a lot more than 54 votes to give him a pink slip.

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What We’re Watching: Robocop calls Tunisian referendum, Boris on the ropes, gloomy Iran nuclear talks

Tunisian constitutional referendum. Tunisia’s President Kais Saied has called a constitutional referendum for July 25, 2022 — the one-year anniversary of when he seized almost all executive power in the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring. Saied says his intervention was necessary to put an end to political corruption and economic stagnation, while critics say it was a coup. The president — a former constitutional law professor known as "Robocop" for his monotone speech delivery — will appoint a committee of experts to draft a new charter ahead of the plebiscite, and then hold legislative elections by the end of next year, but parliament will remain suspended until then. Saied knows he needs to make democratic reforms in order to gain access to badly-needed international credit. Tunisia's ailing economy faces a perfect storm of sluggish growth, a huge budget deficit, a pile of IMF debt, and rising inflation. Although his takeover was welcomed by many Tunisians tired of corruption and mismanagement, things could get very dicey for Robocop if he’s not able to fix the economy soon.

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A Chinese flag flutters in front of the logo of China Evergrande Group seen on the Evergrande Center in Shanghai, China September 22.

REUTERS/Aly Song

What We’re Watching: China’s Lehman moment, Malians heart Russia, Tunisian dictator vibes

Will Evergrande be China's Lehman Bros? Chinese authorities are bracing for the increasingly likely default of Evergrande, the country's most indebted property developer. If Evergrande — a gargantuan corporation with properties in 200 cities across China — stiffs its creditors, that'll send shockwaves throughout the country's financial system, and the wider Chinese economy and society. The possible ripple effects on home buyers and countless companies and individuals that do business with or are owed money by Evergrande have invited comparisons with Lehman Brothers, the US investment bank whose 2008 collapse triggered an American financial crisis that quickly spread to the entire world. Although in principle authoritarian China has ways of containing the fallout, the potential for social unrest is real — and opacity could make it worse. More broadly, the demise of such a big player in the country's once-booming real estate market, which accounts for over 7 percent of GDP, would expose the shaky foundations of China's debt-driven economic growth model, eroding confidence in China both at home and abroad.

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What We're Watching: Egypt closes Gaza border, Swedish PM resigns, Tunisia's indefinite emergency

Egypt closes Gaza border: Egypt closed the Rafah border with the Gaza Strip this week, giving no indication when it'll reopen. Rafah, one of two economic gateways to Gaza and the only entrance not controlled by Israel, is the primary exit point for Palestinians in the Strip to travel overseas. So why did Egypt close it? Well, Cairo — which has been trying to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas militant group that runs Gaza since an 11-day war broke out in May — is extremely peeved at the lack of progress, and blames Hamas for the impasse. Much of this is linked to a recent wave of violence, whereby Hamas launched a series of bomb balloons across the border with Israel, causing multiple fires across Israeli communities, and prompting Israel to launch several military strikes in response. Egypt has long been a negotiator between Israel and the Palestinians, and Egypt-Israel ties have warmed in recent years: last week, Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel met with Israel's PM Naftali Bennett, and invited him to visit Egypt.

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COVID Vaccine Mandates are Coming | Political Instability in Tunisia | World In :60s | GZERO Media

COVID vaccine mandates are coming; political instability in Tunisia

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?

Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.

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