The Graphic Truth: COVID hurts democracy, no matter response

The Graphic Truth: COVID hurts democracy, no matter response

The strength of global democracy was tested by the coronavirus in 2020 — and COVID mostly won. The Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Democracy Index fell last year by an average 0.07 points, the biggest drop since the annual ranking was first compiled in 2006. Government-imposed restrictions on individual freedoms and civil liberties due to the pandemic are partly responsible for the decline, and this is true for a majority of countries regardless of how well they managed the pandemic. We take a look at how democracy performed in 2020 in the 10 countries that handled the pandemic best and in the 10 with the worst responses, as measured by the Lowy Institute.

Next Tuesday, join GZERO Media and Microsoft for a live event, Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace, exploring cyber challenges facing governments, companies, and citizens. Watch this Munich Security Conference "Road to Munich" event on May 18, 1pm EDT / 10am PDT. Juliette Kayyem, Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and former Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Homeland Security, will moderate the conversation featuring Microsoft President Brad Smith and other global experts.

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After a year of relative calm, clashes between Israel and Hamas erupted Monday, putting the two sides on the brink of full-blown war.

Flare-ups between the Israeli military and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip seem to be cyclical. But there are a few developments that make this latest round of tit-for-tat strikes somewhat atypical.

What's different this time?

Targeting Israel's hubs. In the past, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militants in Gaza have restricted rocket fire mostly to southern Israel. On Monday, however, they upped the ante, firing dozens of rockets into the heart of Jerusalem. In response, Israel's army launched a broad military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Then on Tuesday night, in an unprecedented move, Hamas and PIJ fired hundreds of rockets into Tel Aviv and central Israel, sending millions running for cover in bomb shelters, and prompting Israel to shutter its international airport for several hours. So far, 28 Palestinians, including 10 children, have been killed in Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip, while at least three Israelis have been killed and dozens more injured.

Outside players.

Gulf states. This is the biggest Israeli-Palestinian escalation since 2014, when conflict lasted for 50 days. But this time, clashes come just months after Israel has signed normalization agreements with Arab states, including the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. While the UAE — which has welcomed thousands of Israeli tourists in recent months as a result of normalization — has called on Israel to stop the violence and respect "the Holy al-Aqsa Mosque," for now its government has shown no willingness to play an active role in brokering negotiations.

A test for Biden. Recent events also pose a conundrum for US President Joe Biden, a longtime "friend" of Israel who is also focused on placating the progressive wing of his party, which is more supportive than other US lawmakers of Palestinian rights.

Progressive Democrats like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Elizabeth Warren have called on Biden to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, which Biden has made clear isn't a top foreign-policy priority. Moreover, Biden likely doesn't want to do — or say —anything that will provoke the Israelis as his administration tries to revive the Iran nuclear deal, which the Israeli government opposes. But now that the situation is escalating so quickly, Washington may be compelled to get more involved.

The backstory.

Elections matter. Hamas warned last month that it would wreak havoc if the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs in the West Bank, cancelled this month's parliamentary vote, the first Palestinian elections since 2006. Nonetheless, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, fearing a massive electoral loss to Hamas, proceeded to postpone the vote indefinitely. Hamas is fuming.

This follows mass unrest in Jerusalem in recent weeks. A high-profile court case over the potential eviction of several Palestinian families from East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood fueled riots and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police. Jerusalem-based police courted more trouble when they blocked access to a plaza in Jerusalem's Old City that serves as a town-square for Arab residents during Ramadan. Tensions peaked when Israeli police used heavy-handed tactics to crack down on Palestinians protesting at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Hamas, casting itself as the real "protector" of Jerusalem to garner political support, used the violence in Jerusalem as a pretext to launch a barrage of rockets into Israel. Hamas does have a solid base of support given that 37 percent of Palestinians said recently that "armed struggle" is the best way to end the occupation, compared to 36 percent who favored negotiations. In striking Jerusalem, "Hamas is trying to embarrass and punish Abbas for cancelling parliamentary polls that it was slated to benefit from," says Moran Stern, an academic at Georgetown University.

Arab-Israeli communities are fired up. In recent weeks, Arab communities inside Israel have taken a more active role in protests. This development startled many politicians who tout co-existence between Israeli Arabs and Jews as a model for broader Israeli-Palestinian peace. Asked about this development, Moran Stern said: "Hamas has been trying to flare up Arab communities, especially in East Jerusalem. It also hoped to mobilize supporters in the West Bank... It seems the initial plan was to fuel events while keeping a distance so as not to give Israel the excuse to attack its assets in Gaza directly." But Stern notes that as things escalated "this has obviously changed." Still, Hamas' approach seems to have worked: Arab Israelis are now angry and activated. (A state of emergency has now been declared in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod.)

Next steps. Still mired in political chaos, Israel does not have a functioning government to lead the way, while President Abbas has also been missing in action in recent days. Meanwhile, both Israel and Hamas are now upping their rhetoric. The risk of an escalation of deadly violence continues to rise.

China is no stranger to using social media networks to influence public opinion. But as Chinese foreign policy becomes increasingly assertive, they are doing a lot more to win foreign hearts and minds on Facebook and Twitter. A joint investigation by the AP and the Oxford Internet Institute has revealed how Chinese diplomats and state media outlets are coordinating on social media to strategically amplify messages from Beijing — which are then further amplified by an army of fake accounts that Facebook and Twitter keep playing whack-a-mole with. We take a look at China's public diplomacy activity, reach, and engagement on Facebook and Twitter over the span of a few months since mid-2020.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

Why has there been a recent escalation of violence in Jerusalem?

Well, it started with demonstrations of the Palestinians expecting a verdict on these cases of Palestinians that have been pushed out of their homes in East Jerusalem by settlers, contested territory that has belonged to the Palestinians. You've had lots of violence against them by Israeli police, then you had Gaza missiles from Hamas, and then Israeli missiles into Gaza, and now we've got a couple dozen Palestinians dead and the potential for this to get a lot worse is real. The shekel has even moved a little bit because there's concerns that this could lead to a war. It's not a broader war. This is not as much of a priority for the Arabs in the region, so it doesn't kill the Abraham Accords, Iran is still moving ahead with a deal, but in terms of potential for real bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians, absolutely. That's something to worry about.

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A few days ago, cyber criminals hacked into one of the largest oil pipelines in the US, which halted operations after its corporate IT network was knocked offline. If the engineers don't fix the system on their own or the owners cough up the ransom that the hackers are demanding, millions of Americans will soon feel the heat of cybercrime in their daily lives, through higher prices at the gas pump.

Who pulled off this attack, and what does it tell us about the vulnerability of critical infrastructure and the rules (or lack thereof) in cyber conflict today?

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Putin orders review of gun laws after school shooting: Details remain sketchy following a shooting at a school in the Russian city of Kazan. At least seven children and one teacher were killed, and a 19-year-old has been arrested, according to local officials. In response to the attack, President Vladimir Putin "gave an order to urgently work out a new provision concerning the types of weapons that can be in civilian hands, taking into account the weapon" used in this shooting, according to a Kremlin spokesman. There's an irony here that extends to the United States, where school shootings are all too common. In 2018, a Russian woman named Maria Butina pleaded guilty to using the National Rifle Association, the gun rights lobbying group, to "establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over American politics." At the time, Putin described Butina's 18-year sentence as an "outrage." The NRA, of course, works hard to prevent Congress and the president from taking precisely the kinds of actions that Putin swiftly ordered following the shooting in Kazan.

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13,000: Around 13,000 migrants from North Africa have landed in Italy so far this year, three times as many as in the same period in 2020. Prime Minister Mario Draghi has denied a media report that Italy wanted the European Union to pay Libya to stop those migrants from leaving for the EU from its shores.

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In January 2021, after India got its vaccination program underway, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory over "controlling corona" at the World Economic Forum. But within weeks, those words would come back to haunt him. Ian Bremmer asks Delhi-based journalist Barkha Dutt what she thinks went wrong. "I think the complacency set in because, as a percentage of infections, the fatalities seemed to be not as high as the rest of the world… but it doesn't explain to me why we should've got lulled into not needing contingencies." Their discussion about India's COVID crisis is featured on an episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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