Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Ahmed Namatalla discuss the unrest in Sudan, plus more on Iraq’s new parliament holding its first session, Portugal lifting some of its coronavirus-related restrictions, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration penalizing companies that fail to enforce coronavirus vaccine guidelines and Russia-U.S. talks in Geneva.
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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Alex Moore, Jess Fino, Irene Villora, David Wyllie and Ahmed Namatalla. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:
Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.
Today is January 6th.
In this week’s forecast we’ve got Iraq’s new parliament holding its first session, Portugal lifting some of its coronavirus-related restrictions, OSHA penalizing companies that fail to enforce coronavirus vaccine guidelines, officials from Russia and the U.S. meeting in Geneva and an update on the unrest in Sudan.
You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.
Iraqi parliament holds first session
Information compiled by Alex Moore
JIMMY: Iraq’s newly elected parliament will open session Sunday. That, following October’s contentious vote that saw a win by the movement of nationalist Shi’ite scholar and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
October’s election was the first since the large protests in 2019. Protests, which were brutally suppressed by Iraqi authorities and paramilitary forces loyal to Iran.
In turn, and indicative of Iraqi displeasure at the extent to which Tehran has embedded itself in Baghdad’s affairs, voters delivered crushing blows to Iran-aligned political parties, despite extremely low turnout.
And with Iranian-backed factions disputing the electoral results, deadly clashes erupted in Baghdad.
Now, Sadr strongly opposes all foreign interference in Iraq, be it from Iran or the United States.
But despite commanding one of the insurgencies that helped make the U.S. occupation of Iraq so deadly, he is now viewed as being more anti-Iran.
Iraqi lawmakers will now turn to appointing a president, who will in turn present a prime minister for parliament to approve, a process they hope to achieve by March but that will face significant hurdles.
Portugal lifts post-Christmas coronavirus restrictions
Information compiled by Jess Fino
JIMMY: On Monday, people in Portugal will be allowed to return to work and schools will reopen as the country eases tougher restrictions that were imposed after Christmas.
This holiday season’s restrictions were a bid to prevent a repeat of what the country saw the previous year, when it chose not to impose restrictions and in turn saw its health system overwhelmed in January, with a sharp increase in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
This time, Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced a partial lockdown starting on Dec. 26, closing schools, imposing tougher testing requirements, closing bars and asking people to work remotely if possible until at least January 9th.
Now, Portugal enjoys one of the world’s highest vaccination rates at 88 percent, but the booster campaign has been somewhat slower.
The government also decided to close vaccination centers on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year so that health professionals could get some rest.
Still, hospitalizations and deaths are significantly lower than last year.
Finally, the government, which is currently trying to get re-elected in this month’s elections, signaled it will lift restrictions as planned despite a continuing rise of cases and amid fears the country’s economy wouldn’t survive an extension.
OSHA vaccine mandate penalties to start
Information compiled by Irene Villora
JIMMY: The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, also known as OSHA, will start penalizing companies that fail to enforce coronavirus vaccine guidelines beginning Monday.
The vaccine mandate, which was issued in November, dictates that companies with 100 or more employees must require vaccines. Either that, or enforce weekly testing, face masks and social distancing for workers who are not fully vaccinated.
The guidelines include exceptions for medical conditions, religion or disability and offer alternatives to those working outdoors or from home.
Employers will also be required to provide paid time off for vaccination appointments and potential side effects.
Now, after a grace period of two months to allow big employers to prepare, the administration will start investigating companies that fail to fulfill the measures.
Workplaces could face fines up to $136,000 depending on the scale of violations.
Companies in some states will also have to bear the cost of weekly testing for unvaccinated employees.
The vaccine mandate is expected to cover about 84 million workers in the country.
Russia-U.S. talks in Geneva
Information compiled by David Wyllie
JIMMY: Officials from Russia and the United States are set to meet in Geneva on Monday for talks aimed at easing tensions.
And though there is a laundry list of high-level issues to cover, it’s expected the talks will focus on European security and ongoing tensions around Ukraine and nuclear arms control.
However, neither leader will be in attendance for this round of talks, which will instead be led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Deputy Sec. of State Wendy Sherman.
Now, Russia is hoping for security guarantees after failing to push the U.S. into a bilateral discussion on the future of NATO expansion.
The United States,for its part, may attempt to secure a phased withdrawal of Russian troops from forward staging areas, and may pressure Russia for a new round of Ukraine talks. Talks, which may be off to a promising start after Russia recently withdrew 10,000 troops staged near the frontier with Ukraine.
Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla
JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the ongoing unrest in Sudan. For more on that, I recently spoke with Factal editor Ahmed Namatalla.
JIMMY: Hi, Ahmed.
AHMED: Hi, Jimmy.
JIMMY: Well, Ahmed, the last time we spoke about Sudan was back in, ya know, late October after the military coup. Can you bring us up to speed on what’s been happening? You know, what’s the latest?
AHMED: Well, I remember we ended that interview on a bleak note. And, unfortunately, things have not gotten better. What’s happened since then is that, oddly, the military reversed the coup and brought Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok back to office. That lasted for about six weeks. And just a few days ago, Mr. Hamdok resigned. Now, during those six weeks, there was more turmoil. Protesters came out on the street again; this time turned on Hamdok, because they felt like he was not doing enough to force the military out of power and put power in the hands of civilians, which has been the central demand all along. And now power is back in the hands of Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has been pretty much the leader since 2019 when mass protests ousted President Omar Bashir.
JIMMY: Well, if Gen. Burhan is running things now, I guess, in Sudan, do we know if that’s gonna stay the same? Is he the future leader of the country?
AHMED: So it’s unclear who’s going to be in charge. Gen. Burhan is trying to find allies. Oddly, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, who had supported the coup in Egypt and other anti-democratic forces around the region, were not quick to provide him with the support that he probably thought he would get – specifically financial support. And there is precedent for this. So, for example, when his counterpart in Egypt, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assumed power in 2013, through a massive and bloody crackdown, they were quick to support him with billions of dollars that have kept him in power since. This has not been the case in Sudan. And the fear now is that the general will resort to even more violence to maintain his hold on power.
JIMMY: How are Sudan’s neighbors reacting to Hamdok’s resignation? And, you know, how has the rest of the international community responded to it?
AHMED: So, reaction, I think I would describe as just timid so far. There’s been no forceful statement for the military to step aside, aside from the usual diplomatic statements from the US and the West, you know, siding with democratic principles, and that civilians should, you know, lead Sudan moving forward. In the region, like I said, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been on the sidelines, for the most part. Even Egypt has not issued any sort of statement one way or another. Again, besides the usual, you know, we’re with the Sudanese people and whatever is best for them. So we just have to keep a close eye on Gen. Burhan and whether one side or another decides to make concessions. The military is very entrenched in its position and the power that it holds in every one of the country’s institutions. On the other hand, you have protesters who are demanding nothing less than the complete removal of the military from every one of those institutions. So something has to give and there’s simply no dialogue right now. Just protests on the streets and military crackdown in response.
JIMMY: I guess my last question for you then is what should folks be watching for next?
AHMED: So the Sudanese protest groups are announcing new rounds of protests on a regular basis. They’re not happening every day, but when they do announce protests, usually that’s when massive crowds will rally around the capital Khartoum and its vicinity and Port Sudan in the east. So when those protests do come out, they usually confront security forces. And we’ve seen a clear trend with security forces using more violence, escalating the crackdown on protesters. That has led to the deaths of at least seven people in the latest round of protests, and that adds up to more than 50 since the coup in October. So we just have to watch for the escalation of violence on the street and whether one side or another decides to make concessions or come to the table for negotiations. Otherwise, this is one of the world’s poorest countries and it risks sliding into even deeper chaos.
JIMMY: Surely something no one wants to see. Well, that’s all we have time for today, but I appreciate your insight here, Ahmed, and I know you’ll be keeping an eye out for important updates. Thank you for that.
AHMED: Thank you, Jimmy.
JIMMY: Take care.
JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Alex Moore, Jess Fino, Irene Villora and David Wyllie. Our interview featured editor Ahmed Namatalla and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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