What We're Watching: UAE-Saudi rivalry, South Sudan turns ten, Malaysian PM under pressure

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan talks with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in Abu Dhabi, UAE, November 22, 2018.

Gulf grows between UAE and Saudi Arabia: Global oil prices surged this week to a six-year high after talks between the world's biggest oil-producing countries broke down. So what happened exactly? Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, usually close allies, are at loggerheads over how to boost OPEC oil production in the wake of the pandemic-induced economic crisis: the Saudis, along with the Russians, have proposed extending curbs on oil output levels for another eight months — a proposal vehemently rejected by the Emiratis. Abu Dhabi, for its part, has invested a lot to boost its output capacity, and now that global demand is up again it wants to renegotiate its production quotas within the OPEC framework. Riyadh, on the other hand, wants to cut supply levels so that prices remain high. It's a rare public spat between the two countries, whose leaders — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed — enjoy a close personal bond, though a rivalry has been deepening in recent years as both try to establish their kingdoms as the top economic hub — and regional power — in the Gulf region.


South Sudan's bitter anniversary: July 9 marks 10 years since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, becoming the world's youngest nation. At the time, hopes were high that the turmoil of Africa's longest civil war between Sudan's mostly-Muslim north and the Christian/animist south, would dissipate. But a decade later, many South Sudanese are still waiting for the good times to begin. Politically, the country is mired in instability as former rebel leaders who head the transitional government hold competing visions for the country's future. Meanwhile, inter-communal fighting between different ethnic groups has soared, showing the fragility of the nascent peace accord. Episodes of violence combined with drought and other extreme weather events have fueled a humanitarian disaster: the UN says that 2 out of 3 children in South Sudan are in desperate need of humanitarian support, while millions of people displaced by war remain stuck in refugee camps, with limited access to food, water and basic medical care in one of the UN's top 10 projected global hunger hotspots for this year. What's more, parts of the decade-old peace agreement have still not been implemented. Elections are supposed to be held in 2023 but many are calling for President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, a former rebel leader, to step down because they have failed to effectively govern and provide basic services.

Malaysian PM under pressure: Malaysia's biggest political party has withdrawn its support for the fragile coalition government led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. The United Malays National Organisation — which dominated the country's famously complicated politics until its shock election defeat three years ago — wants Muhyiddin to step down over his handling of the pandemic. (Malaysia is the third worst hit country in Southeast Asia). Yassin had declared a draconian state of emergency in January, which closed parliament for months, allowing the PM to govern by decree and diminishing UMNO's influence over policy. Without UMNO's votes, Muhyiddin now heads a minority coalition in parliament, which means he could be ousted without holding new elections through a no-confidence vote. Still that's unlikely because the only other politician capable of cobbling together a coalition is Muhyiddin's rival and anti-UMNO opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who's spent many years — including a few in jail — waiting to become Malaysia's prime minister. Meanwhile, the PM has agreed to partially suspend the state of emergency so lawmakers can return to parliament for a few days to discuss the country's political crisis.

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Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the EU's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

Why should all eyes be on the Virginia suburbs?

I'm here in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where the state will be having a gubernatorial election on November 2nd. The Virginia governor election is held in the year after the US presidential election typically, and is generally seen as a bellwether for how popular the incumbent president of the United States is. In 2009, the Republican candidate won by a commanding 16 points despite the fact that Virginia has been trending more and more Democratic in recent years due to the population growth here in the suburbs, which tend to be more blue than rural areas of the state.

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Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

16: Rich countries have secured 16 times more COVID vaccine supplies than developing nations that rely on the struggling COVAX facility, according to analysis by the Financial Times. COVAX is steadily losing bargaining power to buy vaccines at low prices due to the combined effects of booster shots being doled out in developed countries, as well as low-income countries deciding to buy jabs on their own.

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Listen: Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

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