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Forecast: Guinea-Bissau thwarts coup, Russia holds military exercises in Belarus, and Costa Rica heads to the polls

Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Cissoko Embaló, pictured in July 2021, said he and his cabinet survived a coup attempt on Tuesday.

Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal. We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. If this email was forwarded to you, and you like what you see, you can subscribe for free.

A Look Ahead

Cyclone Batsirai is set to hit Madagascar on Friday, just days after Ana left a trail of destruction in the Indian Ocean.
(Photo: Joint Typhoon Warning Center)

Feb. 4 

Cyclone Batsirai landfall in Madagascar  
A powerful tropical cyclone is forecast to hit Madagascar on Friday, just days after another storm left a trail of destruction on the island.

What’s happened so far 
More than 80 people were killed in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi in late January when Ana, the first named storm of the southwest Indian Ocean cyclone season, hit the region. As Batsirai approaches, rescue workers are still trying to reach tens of thousands of people after floods and landslides from Ana cut off roads and bridges.
The impact 
Batsirai is forecast to be an even stronger storm than Ana, which puts the people who are still recovering from Ana at risk. Tens of thousands of people are still in temporary housing in the capital region, according to the Red Cross.

Feb. 4  

Indonesia’s Bali Island reopens to foreign visitors  
The island of Bali, a major tourist attraction in Indonesia, will start welcoming visitors from all countries on Friday. Though Bali officially opened to select nations in mid-October, there have been no direct flights to the island.

What’s happened so far 
Since October, entry requirements such as a 10-day quarantine period, a visa with a local sponsor and an international health insurance have disincentivized travel to the island. In mid-January, Indonesia lifted a ban on all foreign arrivals and, beginning Friday, fully vaccinated travelers will only need to quarantine for five days. The visa and health insurance guidance will be addressed by a separate regulation soon, officials say.
The Impact 
Indonesia is eager to jumpstart its battered economy, especially in tourism-driven Bali, and the loosened quarantine restrictions come as coronavirus cases rise, fueled by the omicron variant. Officials expect the current wave to peak in February. Amid a steady improvement in vaccination coverage, the health minister says hospitalization rates remain manageable, with most new cases appearing to be mild.

Feb. 6  

Costa Rica election  
Costa Rica will hold a general election on Sunday with a record 25 candidates running for the presidency.

What’s happened so far 
This election has been marked by an aggressive campaign with more than 40 percent of voters undecided. According to a poll from the University of Costa Rica, no candidate is likely to get enough votes to win the first round, making a runoff likely. Indecisiveness among Costa Rican voters has become a trend since the 2014 elections amid a proliferation of corruption scandals and economic inequalities that widen the gap between the nation’s social classes.
The Impact 
More than 3.5 million Costa Ricans are able to vote in the election for the president and 57 parliamentary lawmakers in one of the most stable countries of Latin America. The first results are expected to be announced Sunday evening with approximately 10 percent of the votes counted.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will make his first visit to the White House since replacing Angela Merkel.
(Photo: Inga Kjer/ photothek / Deutscher Bundestag)

Feb. 7  

Germany’s Scholz visits White House  
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will travel to the United States on Monday to meet President Joe Biden for the first time since taking office.

What’s happened so far 
Scholz’s inaugural visit to the United States will follow a tour of several European capitals. He was elected in early December, replacing Angela Merkel after 16 years. According to the White House, Biden and Scholz will discuss ongoing tensions with Russia over Ukraine, as well as challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
The Impact  
The visit comes amid increased concerns Russia will invade Ukraine, with Germany refusing to sell military equipment to Ukraine, unlike other European countries. The leaders could also discuss the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, after the United States warned an invasion would force an end to the project and the European Commission tabled the project while examining its compliance with Europe’s energy policy.

Feb. 7  

Iraqi parliament elects president
Following October’s general elections, which saw Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr make significant gains, the Iraqi parliament will elect a new president Monday.

What’s happened so far 
Under an unofficial agreement between Iraq’s political parties, the country’s presidency has traditionally been held by a member of the Kurdish community. This week, the parliament approved 25 candidates for the role. Although the post is largely ceremonial, the candidate will need to receive a two-thirds majority of votes.
The Impact 
Despite repeated calls for unity in Baghdad, tensions remain between Kurdistan’s two biggest rival parties — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who nominated current President Barham Salih, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), who put forth former Deputy Prime Minister Hoshyar Zebari. KDP leader Masoud Barzani, however, seems to have secured the support of the largest bloc led by Al-Sadr.

Feb. 8  

Libya prime minister vote  
On Tuesday, Libya’s unity government parliament is expected to vote to appoint a new prime minister.

What’s happened so far 
In what will mark the first big political development in Libya since December’s landmark presidential elections were delayed, members of the country’s eastern-based Government of National Unity will vote to replace Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. The vote has intensified political maneuvering among Libya’s fragmented political class in what Dbeibah said was “a desperate attempt to renew division.” 
The Impact 
The vote challenges calls from the United Nations to focus on the issues that led to the presidential election’s postponement as opposed to appointing a new administration. While Libya has witnessed 18 months of relative calm after the creation of the unity government, some fear renewed disputes among the country’s competing factions could derail the process to elect a president and agree on a constitution. 

Feb. 10  

Russian military exercises in Belarus begin  
Russia is expected to kick off military exercises in neighboring Belarus on Thursday as tensions remain high over its deployment of some 100,000 troops to the border with Ukraine. 

What’s happened so far 
At a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, the United States accused Russia of being behind the largest troop mobilization in Europe in decades, claiming that, on top of its deployment on Ukraine’s borders, it was funneling some 30,000 troops into Belarus ahead of war games. The Russian presence in Belarus means Ukraine is enveloped on three sides by Russian forces, and, more crucially, puts Putin’s forces within striking distance of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. 
The Impact 
Analysts fear the increased movement and communications from the ten-day military exercise will serve as cover for a surprise Russian attack on Ukraine. Western leaders have urged Russia to refrain from any incursion into Ukraine, warning of severe sanctions if it’s attacked. Diplomacy to avert hostilities continues, with world leaders attempting to keep lines of dialogue open.

What Else Matters

Houthi attacks on United Arab Emirates 

The Houthis, an Iran-backed militant group, is increasingly targeting the United Arab Emirates in the latest phase of the eight-year-old war that Saudi Arabia started in Yemen with the backing of the United States and others. The Houthis claim recent drone and missile attacks on Abu Dhabi are in response to Emirati involvement in the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 Yemenis and hit the remaining 30 million with one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Watch for: The Houthis are escalating their rhetoric following a strike on an industrial area of Abu Dhabi in January that killed three people. One threat was directed against foreign companies working in the United Arab Emirates, while another against the iconic Burj Khalifa in Dubai was more veiled. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led military alliance that includes the UAE is conducting increasingly deadly strikes on some of the country’s most populated areas under Houthi control, including Sana’a and Al-Hudaydah. The United States remains involved in the conflict, continuing to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons.

Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Cissoko Embaló, pictured in July 2021, said he and his cabinet survived a coup attempt on Tuesday.
(Photo: Romério Cunha / VPR Brazil)

Guinea-Bissau attempted coup

Guinea-Bissau’s President Umaro Cissoko Embaló said he and his cabinet survived an attempted coup Tuesday following several hours of gunfire around the presidential palace in the country’s capital Bissau. At least eleven people were killed, including four of the alleged attackers, according to local officials. It is unclear who was behind the attack — while regional blocs ECOWAS and the African Union appeared to blame the military, Embaló linked the attempted coup to drug traffickers

Watch for: While the situation in Guinea-Bissau now appears to have calmed and civilians are resumed work, further unrest is possible, particularly given the country’s history of military takeovers and wider instability in the region. Guinea-Bissau experienced four successful coups and more than a dozen attempted ones since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974. The wider region of West Africa is also experiencing a period of political instability, with successful or attempted coups occurring in Mali, Guinea, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso since 2020.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…