What We're Watching: Hajj passports, AfD vs German intelligence, Turkey's human rights plan

A Muslim man wearing a protective mask practice social distancing as he attends a prayer to mark the Hajj festival, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 1, 2020.

Passport to the Hajj — Saudi Arabia announced that it will require pilgrims to have vaccine passports in order to enter the country for the annual Hajj later this year. Each year, millions of Muslims from dozens of countries travel to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina to fulfill a religious obligation, in an annual event that brings in billions of dollars for the Saudi economy. The vaccine passport requirement may mean that people without means or access to vaccines in their home countries will be shut out of the Hajj this year, but Riyadh is relying on the scheme to help them pull off the event — after last year's event was mainly cancelled amid the pandemic— without fomenting a COVID outbreak.


Alternative für Surveillance — The German government has reportedly placed the far-right Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party under surveillance for its far-right extremist affiliations. AfD, a euroskeptic party with a strongly anti-Islam platform, has been the largest opposition party in Germany's legislature since 2017, but its popularity has trailed off over the past year. The move will allow German intelligence to tap the party's phones and surveil its communications. The AfD, for its part, says that being placed under surveillance will hurt the group's ability to compete in a spate of local elections and the general election this fall. And if AfD doesn't do well, its supporters will almost certainly dismiss the election as illegitimate, taking a leaf out of the pro-Trump playbook. (After the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, an AfD lawmaker wrote, "Trump is fighting the same political fight — you have to call it a culture war — as we in the Alternative for Germany are in Germany.")

Turkey to embrace human rights? — Turkey's pugnacious President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is turning over a new leaf, he says, with an 11-point human rights program to be rolled out over the next two years. The somewhat skimpy plan includes judiciary and criminal justice reforms, new human rights watchdogs, and expanded legal protections for women. The move could be a precursor to writing a more "democratic" constitution, Ankara says. For years, Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party have been accused of human rights abuses, targeting journalists, and cracking down on political opponents — trends that only intensified after a failed coup attempt against Erdogan in 2016. While Erdogan's embrace of a rights-based approach to domestic policy is certainly a step in the right direction, the talk of rewriting the constitution has set humans rights groups on edge — they worry that Erdogan will use the process to strengthen his own powers even further. The timing of Erdogan's transformation is also interesting: his approval rating is sagging as unemployment remains high, while inequality worsened during the pandemic.

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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