What We're Watching: Another Egyptian Uprising?

What We're Watching: Another Egyptian Uprising?

American Boots on Saudi Soil – Last Friday, President Donald Trump announced the deployment of additional US troops to Saudi Arabia in response to an attack on Saudi oil facilities that Washington and Riyadh blame on Iran. The Pentagon says Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates asked for the troops as a deterrent to more Iranian attacks on their critical infrastructure. We wonder about the wisdom of using American soldiers solely as a kind of "tripwire." How will the US respond if Iran or the Houthis launch an attack that (deliberately or inadvertently) kills US troops? Also, we're old enough to remember that Osama bin Laden's first call for jihad, way back in 1996, was about casting out the "infidel" American troops who arrived, and stayed, in Saudi Arabia during the First Gulf War.


Venezuela's Fracturing Opposition – Things aren't getting any easier for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been trying to dislodge strongman president Nicolas Maduro for almost a year. Talks between Guaido's people and Maduro's broke down earlier this summer, and a group of smaller opposition parties has now accepted an invitation from Maduro to hash things out without Guaido. It's the first big crack to appear in the Venezuelan opposition since Guaido declared himself Venezuela's rightful leader in January, with support from most of the world's democracies. We're watching to see what Guaido does next, but with his coalition splintering, apathy on the streets, and little to show for his efforts since a failed coup attempt in April, is he now a spent force?

Protests in Egypt – Hundreds of people were arrested over the weekend in a rash of unexpected protests against dictator president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The demonstrations, which are extremely risky in Egypt's police state, seem to have been touched off by colorfully phrased allegations of corruption made by a former regime crony who now lives in Spain. Since deposing democratically elected president Mohamad Morsi in 2013, el-Sisi has cracked down ruthlessly on dissent, while trying to push through modest economic reforms. Observers of this weekend's unrest noted that most of the protesters were in their 20s, meaning they would have been too young to take part in the Arab Spring demonstrations of 2011-2012. We are watching to see if the protests continue next weekend. El-Sisi's troops have made a point of blocking access to Tahrir Square, main stage of the 2011 revolution.

What We're Ignoring

Havana Syndrome – Remember those bizarre reports that started surfacing in 2017 that Cuba was using some kind of mysterious new "sonic weapon" against US diplomats in Havana? President Trump even went so far as to kick some Cuban diplomats out of the US in response to the alleged attacks, which were blamed for hearing problems and even brain damage. There was never any clear evidence of sonic attacks, and there have been occasional attempts by scientists to advance an alternate theory. Last year, a "rare jungle cricket" was suggested as the real culprit. Now mosquitos are partly to blame, according to Canadian scientists who say the symptoms may have been caused by a nerve toxin in the fumigation spray that Cuba was using to kill the critters during the Zika virus crisis in 2016. We are ignoring this story because we can't keep up with the various theories anymore.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

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In this extended version of Ian Bremmer's conversation with UN Secretary-General António Guterres for GZERO World, the two discuss a wide range of geopolitical issues and how they've been exacerbated by the pandemic. Guterres shares his views on the urgent need for global climate action, equitable distribution of vaccine once approved, and Europe's emerging role as an example of successful intergovernmental cooperation. Guterres also lays out his vision for a more "inclusive" multilateralism, one that involves deeper partnerships between organizations like the UN and World Health Organization with multinational corporations and private stakeholders.

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on the biggest development in US politics this week:

So, the scriptwriters for 2020 have thrown as a real curveball, introducing the most explosive element in US politics, just six weeks before the election. The tragic death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be remembered as a trailblazing jurist, but also a reliably liberal vote on a court that was divided along ideological lines with a five-four conservative majority. This has the potential to upend the presidential election. And likely will motivate turnout on both sides. But also, importantly for president, Trump could remind some Romney voting ex-Republicans who were leaning towards Biden why they were Republicans in the first place. Which means that it has the potential to push some persuadable voters back towards the president.

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(Some) Thais fed up with royals: In their largest show of force to date, around 18,000 young Thai activists took to the streets of Bangkok on Saturday to rally against the government and demand sweeping changes to the country's powerful monarchy. The protesters installed a gold plaque declaring that Thailand belongs to the Thai people, not the king — a brazen act of defiance in a country where many view the sovereign as a god and offenses against the royal family are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Activists also got the royal guards to accept a letter addressed to King Vajiralongkorn with their proposed reforms. We're watching to see if the Thai government — made up mostly of the same generals who took over in a 2014 coup and then stage-managed last year's election to stay in power — continues to exercise restraint against the activists. So far, some protest leaders have been detained but they are growing bolder in their defiance of the military and the royal family, the two institutions that have dominated Thai politics for decades. Prime Minister and former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is in a tough spot: many young and liberal Thais will hate him if he cracks down hard on the peaceful protesters, but not doing so would make him look weak in the eyes of his power base of older, more conservative Thais who still venerate the monarchy and are fine with the military calling the shots in politics.

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