What We're Watching: Angry Iranians on the streets

Tehran's Next Move: "We don't want an Islamic Republic, we don't want it," was the chant heard among some protesters in Tehran over the weekend after the government announced a 50 percent fuel price hike meant to fund broader support for the country's poor. Under crippling US sanctions, the country's economy has plummeted, unleashing a "tsunami" of unemployment. What started Friday as nationwide economic protests took on a political coloring, as protestors in some cities tore up the flag and chanted "down with [Supreme Leader] Khamenei!". The unrest seems to be related, at least indirectly, to widespread demonstrations against Tehran-backed regimes in Iraq and Lebanon as well. Economically-motivated protests erupt in Iran every few years, but they tend to subside within weeks under harsh government crackdowns. So far, the authorities have shut down the internet to prevent protestors from using social media to organize rallies. But Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps has warned of more "decisive action" if the unrest continues.


China's army sweeping up Hong Kong? A central question hangs over the ongoing turmoil in Hong Kong: Will China's soldiers intervene? Elite troops of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) are garrisoned in Hong Kong and the city's basic law says they can help maintain public order, but may not "interfere in local affairs." As the battle of wills between protesters and local police rages on, some observers saw ominous signs over the weekend: on Saturday, some of the PLA troops took to the streets with brooms and plastic buckets to help clean up the debris following demonstrations. PLA troops have left their garrisons in Hong Kong just twice in the past 22 years, and they would not have done so now without orders known at the highest levels of the Chinese government. Is this whistle-as-you-work cleaning brigade a warning from the mainland that the army's role can quickly expand?

Sri Lanka's new president: Former defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president of Sri Lanka on Sunday, soundly defeating a candidate from the current government. Rajapaksa's campaign focused on tax cuts to spur growth and tighter security, particularly after the Islamic State's horrific Easter bombings this spring. But Rajapaksa is a polarizing figure in a deeply divided society: as defense secretary he oversaw the military defeat of the Tamil separatist movement during a brutal civil war, and has faced allegations that he committed human rights violations during that time. He and his brother, former strongman president Mahinda Rajapaksa, also favor closer relations with China, a major and controversial new investor in the Sri Lankan economy. We're watching to see how the new government positions the country in an increasingly delicate dance between Beijing and its traditional allies in India.

What We're Ignoring

Meaningless elections in Belarus: To be honest, Sunday's parliamentary vote in Belarus didn't exactly have us on the edge of our seats. The last time general elections were held there, only two of the legislature's 110 seats went to figures opposed to President Alexander Lukashenko, who prides himself on being "Europe's last dictator." But this time around the result was even more ridiculous: precisely zero opposition figures were elected (the two from last time were barred from running). Lukashenko says his elections are fair, and we are of course ignoring that. More interesting is whether Lukashenko, who has run Belarus for a quarter of a century, provokes any kind of backlash when he stands for "reelection" next year, as he intends to do.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The Trump administration's Middle East peace plan – three years in the making—is expected to be revealed tomorrow at a joint White House press conference between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Recall that the economic part of the plan, which calls for $50 billion of international investment to boost the Palestinian economy, was released last summer to weak applause, because it didn't include a framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here are a few things to look for when more details are released tomorrow.

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The 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucuses, a critical early contest on the path to winning the nomination, will take place on Monday, February 3rd. After that, the pace of the primaries picks up fast, with important contests in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Here's the latest polling of the frontrunners in each of those states. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tops polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, but former Vice President Joe Biden is number one in Nevada and has a commanding lead in South Carolina.

John Bolton's book: Details of former US National Security Advisor John Bolton's hotly-anticipated White House memoir, "The Room Where it Happened" have started to leak, including an allegation that President Trump was explicit about holding up security aid unless Ukraine investigated his Democratic rivals. This will intensify pressure on moderate Senate Republicans to join Democrats in calling for Bolton and other direct witnesses to the President's conduct to testify under oath in the impeachment trial. This may also provide an opening for Democrats to lobby Chief Justice John Roberts – who is presiding over the Senate trial – to subpoena Bolton himself. We're watching to see how Republicans in the Senate respond to this new pressure.

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51: Following a recent uptick in Taliban violence, Afghan security forces have struck back, killing at least 51 of the group's fighters in recent days. This comes amid a renewed stalemate in US-Taliban peace talks that recommenced in Doha last week.

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