What We’re Watching: Tunisian protests, Navalny vs Putin, Italian government survives

Protesters demand fall of the regime in Tunisia. Reuters

Tunisians demand change: Marking ten years since Tunisians sparked the Arab Spring by taking to the streets to demand the ouster of longtime autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, a fresh generation is now protesting the country's dire economic and social crisis. Security forces responded with a heavy hand, using tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters who hurled gas bombs, and over 600 demonstrators were arrested. As Tunisia descends further into economic ruin, with youth unemployment hovering at 30 percent, protesters demand a new election (they have not been placated by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's recent attempt at a government reshuffle.) Demonstrators say that the political class has failed to follow through on pledges of reform made during the 2011 revolution: since then, living standards for most Tunisians have plummeted while poverty has soared. While Tunisia is the only state involved in the Arab Spring that became a democracy, the political elite has largely failed to root out corruption and inequality. Last year, the government responded to similar protests by creating more public sector jobs, but options are limited now due to pandemic-fueled economic stagnation.


Navalny back in Russia: Top Russian dissident Alexey Navalny was arrested on Monday upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he was treated after being poisoned in Russia last year. What happens now? The Kremlin must tread carefully. On the one hand, Navalny — an outspoken nationalist and anti-corruption crusader — is a perennial thorn in Putin's side, and enjoys some real support in Russia's big cities. On the other hand, keeping the fearless Navalny locked up could backfire, fueling a fresh protest movement in the run-up to this fall's legislative vote — something the Kremlin is desperate to avoid. The last time Putin — who unlike with other opposition figures, famously never refers to Navalny by his name — headed into Duma (parliament) elections with approval ratings as low as they are now was in 2011, when Navalny himself led hundreds of thousands of protesters angry about election fraud and Putin's tight grip on power. (Also, Putin certainly won't love Navalny's revelations about the president's palatial private strip club). An early test of Navalny's ability to rally crowds will come on January 23, when he called on Russians to stage mass demonstrations "for your future." Before that, get ready for likely fresh sanctions on Russia from the EU and the US.

Conte hangs on in Italy: Italy's fragile coalition government narrowly survived a confidence vote in the Senate on Tuesday, after several senators — including independents and those from the junior party that forced the cabinet's collapse last week— decided to abstain. This will allow political outsider Giuseppe Conte to remain as prime minister, but weakens his power at the worst possible time: Italy is in the midst of a national emergency due to a severe economic crisis and an upsurge in COVID cases after emerging as one of the world's hardest-hit countries back in the spring. The current political crisis was spurred by opposition to the PM's refusal to let Italy take on even more debt to get the economy back on track, and his insistence that technocrats — not politicians — decide how EU pandemic relief money is spent. In the coming weeks, we'll be watching to see if Conte succeeds in lobbying moderate parties to agree to his spending plans, or finally steps down if his minority government can't get key legislation passed. The far-right Lega party, currently leading in election polls, is surely hoping for the latter.

Over the next decade, Walmart's $350 billion investment in U.S. manufacturing has the potential to:

  • Support more than 750,000 new American jobs.
  • Avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions by working with suppliers to shift to U.S. manufacturing.
  • Advance the growth of U.S.-based suppliers.
  • Provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

20 million: The US will donate 20 million doses of federally authorized COVID vaccines to countries in need. This is the first time the Biden administration has agreed to send shots approved for use in America. Washington previously pledged to send 60 million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the US has stockpiled but lacks FDA approval.

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Cyber is a tool, and sometimes a weapon. Whether espionage for commercial gain or indiscriminate attacks on critical infrastructure, actions taken in cyber space affect you directly, potentially upending even the most mundane realities of everyday life.

Join GZERO Media and Microsoft for a live conversation on cyber challenges facing governments, companies, and citizens in a Munich Security Conference "Road to Munich" event today, May 18.

Event link: gzeromedia.com/globalstage

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A year and a half after millions poured into the streets of Santiago to protest inequality and the vestiges of the Pinochet dictatorship, Chileans voted this weekend to elect the 155 people who will rewrite the country's constitution.

The question now is not whether the people want change — clearly they do — but rather how much change their representatives can agree on. Overall, the new text is widely expected to beef up the role of the state in a country where a strong private sector made Chile one of Latin America's wealthiest yet also most unequal nations.

Here are a few things to bear in mind as the constitutional rewrite process kicks off.

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A big reason the Chinese leader is pushing harder than ever to annex Taiwan is actually quite small. The self-governing island has an outsize manufacturing capacity for semiconductors – the little chips that bind the electrical circuits we use in our daily lives. Cell phones, laptops, modern cars, and even airplanes all rely on these tiny computer wafers. Taiwanese chip manufacturer TSMC alone makes more than half of the chips outsourced by all foreign companies, which means your iPhone likely runs on Taiwanese-made semiconductors. What would happen to the world's semiconductor chips if China were to take control of Taiwan?

Watch the episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: What could spark a US-China war?

Will there be a ceasefire in Gaza? Fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas/Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip has now entered its second week. Over the weekend, Israel intensified its bombing of the Gaza Strip, which included targeting a building that houses Al-Jazeera and AP, two foreign media outlets, causing their reporters to hastily flee the premises (Israel has so far not substantiated its claim that Hamas intelligence operatives were working in the building.) At least 42 Gazans were killed in a single Israeli strike Sunday, bringing the Palestinian death toll above 200. Meanwhile, Hamas continued to fire rockets at southern and central Israel, resulting in several casualties. On Monday, for the first time since the violent outbreak, US President Joe Biden voiced support for a ceasefire driven by the Egyptians and others. However, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, has said that the operation will "take time," and a truce is off the table until Hamas' military capabilities are significantly degraded. Civilians on both sides continue to suffer.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Happy week to you. I thought we would do a quick take as we often do talk a little bit today about the latest in the fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians, still going on. Thousands now of Hamas' rockets raining down on Israel, hundreds of Israeli air sorties, also tanks and artillery hitting Gaza, as well as some violence locally in the West Bank and a fair amount across Israel Proper between Arabs and Israeli Jews living in the country.

I'm pretty optimistic at this point, if you can even use that word, that this is not going to escalate further in the near term. In other words, this doesn't become a ground war. A couple of reasons. First, the Israeli defense forces over the weekend put out a statement showing how much they had already done to degrade Hamas' military capabilities. And historically, they don't do that until they're ready to show success and wrap up their military operations in relatively short order. So that implies a quick pivot, at least to opening negotiations with the Palestinians as to a ceasefire.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. And I thought I'd talk a little bit today about the latest in Israel, Palestine. It's obviously been driving headlines all week. And of course, on social media, there's no topic that we all get along and agree with each other more than Israel, Palestine. It's an easy one to take on. Yeah, I know I'm completely full of crap on that. But I thought I would give you some sense of what I think is actually happening where we're going. So first point, massive fight, big conflict between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli defense forces. Not only that, but also more violence and a lot of violence breaking out between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Extremists on both sides taking to the streets and fairly indiscriminate violence, in this case, worst since 2014.

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