What We're Watching: Angry Iranians on the streets

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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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