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Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Agnese Boffano discuss a renewed power struggle in Libya plus more on the Munich Security Conference, the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, Australia reopening its borders to vaccinated travelers and a UN General Assembly meeting on Ukraine.
These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.
This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Irene Villora, Thibault Spirlet, Imana Gunawan, Alex Moore and Agnese Boffano. 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 February 17th and in this week’s forecast we’ve got the Munich Security Conference, the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, Australia reopening its borders to vaccinated travelers, a UN General Assembly meeting on Ukraine and a discussion on the renewed power struggle in Libya.
You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.
Munich Security Conference
Information compiled by Irene Villora
JIMMY: The 58th Munich Security Conference begins Friday, albeit with a reduced attendance as part of coronavirus protocols.
According to the group’s annual report, this year’s conference will focus on “unresolved, overlapping crises.”
Leaders will analyze the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, fragile supply chains and ongoing geopolitical tensions and propose solutions.
The main regions of concern, according to the report, are Iran, China, the Euro-Atlantic and parts of Africa and the Middle East.
Now, world leaders such as US Vice President Kamala Harris, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and EU President Ursula von der Leyen will join heads of government and state in the unofficial meeting.
Russia, however, hasn’t confirmed yet if it will participate in this year’s conference.
Olympics closing ceremony
Information compiled by Thibault Spirlet
JIMMY: The 24th Olympic Winter Games of Beijing will close on Sunday. However, it will do so with reduced in-person attendance due to China’s zero coronavirus strategy.
Of course, this year’s games were marred by a diplomatic boycott from the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, India and Australia.
The United States cited the repression of the country’s Uyghur Muslim ethnic group and the censorship of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai as reasons for the boycott.
Olympic athletes and officials attending the games had to abide by strict coronavirus rules, including mandatory masks, self-isolation and living in the so-called “bubble areas.”
Now, China criticized the diplomatic boycott, saying it interfered with the political neutrality of the games.
Still, according to analysts, the boycott has failed to have a tangible impact on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs and was viewed as largely symbolic, as few countries participated.
Finally, in line with the Olympic Charter, the closing ceremony will feature parades of flags representing all participating countries and an artistic spectacle to showcase the culture and history of Italy — the host nation for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina.
Australia reopens borders to vaccinated travelers
Information compiled by Imana Gunawan
JIMMY: Australia will reopen to all fully vaccinated travelers on Monday after almost two years of near-total border closure.
Of course, immediate family members of Australian residents and citizens have been allowed to enter the country since November 2021, and borders were reopened to eligible visa holders in December.
As of Monday, any fully vaccinated traveler with a visa will be able to enter while following testing guidelines.
Yet despite the nationwide reopening, Western Australia is still under strict restrictions — leaving a large part of the country inaccessible as the state only allows certain approved interstate and overseas travelers and requires a quarantine period.
In addition, the vaccination requirements complicate plans for teenagers with different states enacting different guidelines for 12- to 17-year-old visitors.
Now, Australia has had some of the strictest border controls throughout the coronavirus pandemic, which some analysts say is one of the reasons the country has seen a relatively lower death toll of just more than 4,200 fatalities.
Finally, tourism agencies have particularly welcomed the news of reopening, with operators keen on rebuilding markets largely shut since March of 2020.
UN General Assembly meeting on Ukraine
Information compiled by Alex Moore
JIMMY: The United Nations General Assembly will meet beginning Wednesday to discuss the situation in Ukraine’s “temporarily occupied territories.”
Of course, the threat of renewed and intensified Russian military action against Ukraine continues to fester, with U.S. intelligence reportedly warning that Moscow could act imminently.
And while intense diplomacy continues, the timing of a potential invasion also hinges on numerous environmental factors, such as frozen ground and moonlight.
U.N. chief António Guterres has steadfastly encouraged de-escalation of the situation.
Now, while U.N. General Assembly resolutions may not carry immense weight, particularly with Russia exercising veto power at the Security Council, they aren’t meaningless from a political standpoint.
For example, following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on states not to recognize the territorial changes.
So, while the situation at the border is still rapidly changing, the U.N. meeting will serve as another diplomatic channel for de-escalation.
New power struggle in Libya
Information compiled by Agnese Boffano
JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on a renewed power struggle in Libya. For more on that I spoke with Factal Editor Agnese Boffano.
JIMMY: Hi, Agnese.
AGNESE: Hey, Jimmy.
JIMMY: Hey, can you catch our listeners up to speed on what’s been going on in Libya? They were supposed to have an election in December, but that never happened and yet they somehow have a new prime minister. Can you tell us more about that?
AGNESE: That’s right. Yeah, so, presidential and parliamentary elections were scheduled to take place on December 24th last year, but just a couple of days before the country’s elections commission, which is based in Tripoli, postponed them without issuing a new date. And since then, the Tobruk-based parliament in the East has challenged the legitimacy of the transitional government, which is headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh in the West, including, as you said, by electing a new prime minister [former interior minister Fathi Bashagha] last week. And so now there’s debate on whether this vote can be considered a vote of no confidence, since technically the head of state is the one who tasks the prime minister with forming a new cabinet. And this is where it gets complicated, because according to the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, the head of state would be Speaker Aguila Saleh, who elected the new prime minister last week, as you said. Well, according to Tripoli, this would be the UN-backed presidency council which deems Thursday’s election illegitimate. And so since then, Bashagha has traveled to Tripoli, but Dbeibeh continues to refuse to give up power. And so that’s where we stand today.
JIMMY: What’s the domestic reaction been to Bashagha being named prime minister? Is he seeing support?
AGNESE: Well, since about 2014, Libya has continued to be divided in line with the two parallel governments in Tripoli in the West and Tobruk in the East. And so, Bashagha has seen the support of the Eastern parliament, having received an outright majority of votes from the House of Representatives after his rival allegedly stepped down from the race – claims which, by the way, he denies. So Libya’s Eastern region-based army, headed by a general named Khalifa Haftar, has thrown its support behind Bashagha, the newly named prime minister, despite past animosity between the two sides. But at the same time, the West of the country, I have to say, has not reacted positively to the outcome. We have the Government of National Accord deeming the election illegitimate, as mentioned earlier. And we’ve also been seeing demonstrations in the Libyan capital against the decision, with mostly Dbeibeh supporters calling for elections headed by the UN-appointed prime minister.
JIMMY: Speaking of the international community, how has it responded to the Eastern-based parliament replacing Dbeibeh?
AGNESE: So as you know, there are many parties involved in Libya at the moment. So, international support for the Tobruk decision to replace Dbeibeh has been quite varied. The UN, for example, that appointed Dbeibeh last year in March and tasked him to lead the country to elections in December, initially continued to support him even after the House vote. However, there’s been some backtracking in recent days. For example, [UN] Secretary General Antonio Guterres says that he is taking note of last week’s vote and is working on revising the path towards elections. Likewise, Stephanie Williams, who is the UN Special Advisor on Libya, has met both Dbeibeh and Bashagha, but has not outwardly taken a side. On the other hand, Bashagha has seen some international support from traditional allies of the Eastern parliament, who are traditionally aligned with Haftar. For example, Egypt, who has said that it supports the new Libyan government and supports its roadmap to elections.
JIMMY: How about those elections? Any indication on when or if we’ll see them happen?
AGNESE: The simple answer is not really, because the main reason why the Eastern parliament voted in the new prime minister was because of what they see as Dbeibeh’s failure to hold elections last December. But the Tobruk government said it approved a new transitional roadmap headed by Bashagha with expected elections in the next 14 months. They added that the UN has no right to interfere, but it’s not really clear when exactly these elections are scheduled to take place, according to the Eastern parliament. In the West, Dbeibeh’s transitional government has not yet set a new date for elections. But the UN special advisor did tell reporters last week that they could be as early as June as she continues to engage with both Dbeibeh and Bashagha in the elections.
JIMMY: Well, then, besides just looking for elections, what else should folks be watching for?
AGNESE: Well, we are seeing some tensions in Tripoli as more and more armed troops are reportedly making their way towards the capital this week to reinforce security, according to Dbeibeh. It’s still unclear whether the Tobruk parliament could overthrow the Western government, given that they have no extensive either physical or political presence in the capital. Having said that, though, there is a heightened security risk, as was seen last week, when just hours before the House of Representative vote, Dbeibeh reportedly survived an assassination attempt after shots were fired at his car in Tripoli.
JIMMY: Well, that’s certainly concerning to hear, but I do know you’ll be keeping an eye on things in the weeks to come. Appreciate that. And thanks for talking with us today.
AGNESE: Thanks so much, Jimmy.
JIMMY: Take care.
JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Irene Villora, Thibault Spirlet, Imana Gunawan and Alex Moore. Our interview featured editor Agnese Boffano 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 email@example.com
This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.
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Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe
Top Image: Then-Interior minister in Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) Fathi Bashagha speaks during a press conference in Tunis, Tunisia on 26 December 2019 | Source: Yassıne Gaıdı/Anadolu Agency