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Protests continue across Iran, nearly three months after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died following her arrest by the country’s morality police. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Agnese Boffano discuss the uncertain status of the police responsible for enforcing Iran’s strict Islamic dress code for women.
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Week of Dec. 9-16
A Look Ahead
Dec. 9 – China-Arab summit
Saudi Arabia will host a summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and at least 14 Arab leaders on Friday, the final day of Xi’s state visit to Riyadh.
What’s happened so far
Xi arrived Wednesday for his first trip to Saudi Arabia since 2016. Prior to the visit, Saudi state media published a historical account of relations with China, noting the two countries are keen to strengthen bilateral ties. The two countries are also expected to sign deals worth nearly $30 billion, primarily in the energy and infrastructure spheres.
With this summit, China appears to be seeking to strengthen its influence in the Arab world by capitalizing on tensions between Riyadh and Washington over oil production cuts, the role of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. In a 15,000-word report released before the summit, China praised the Arab states’ shared position on key regional issues and denied it was seeking to fill a power vacuum left by the United States in the Middle East.
Dec. 12 – Brazil election certification
Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court is expected to certify former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as the country’s next leader on Monday, after he beat incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro in the country’s election.
What’s happened so far
Lula’s win in the second round of the election, triggered after no candidate won an overall majority in the first round, was narrower than many expected. Following the loss, Bolsonaro did not publicly concede but reportedly told the country’s supreme court that the election was over. Despite not conceding in public, Bolsonaro said he would act in accordance with the country’s constitution, which mandates a transfer of power, and then authorized his staff to begin the transition. He also supported nationwide protests that blocked highways, which the country’s supreme court ordered to halt.
The court’s certification represents the final step in the electoral process, allowing the inauguration ceremony to take place on the first day of 2023. Surprises are unlikely as the court has already dismissed a challenge to the results by a pro-Bolsonaro coalition, saying there was a “total absence of any evidence” and fining the party for the attempt.
Dec. 14 – EU-ASEAN summit
The European Union and the Association of Southeast Asia Nations will hold a joint summit of heads of state for the first time in Brussels on Wednesday.
What’s happened so far
This inaugural full summit comes as the EU seeks to strengthen ties with ASEAN countries amid security concerns over Russia and China. Talks are set to focus on developing supply chains and trade networks between the two blocs in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war and heightened tension between Washington and Beijing.
Leaders of the two blocs hope closer cooperation could help Europe lessen dependence on Russia and prevent southeast Asian countries from positioning closer to China and Russia. However, it is unclear whether the two groups will reach a consensus, as the EU has imposed sanctions on countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar over human rights problems and few ASEAN countries joined the West in sanctions against Moscow.
Dec. 15 – Colombia-Venezuela border bridge reopens
The Tienditas international border bridge between Colombia’s North Santander state and Venezuela’s Táchira state will reopen to vehicles Thursday for the first time since 2015.
What’s happened so far
The reopening follows negotiations between the two governments that concluded in August and seek to normalize bilateral relations after seven years of hostile diplomacy — aggravated in 2019 with the recognition of Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela by former Colombian President Ivan Duque’s administration. Since 2015, only pedestrians were allowed to cross the bridge, one of the three checkpoints between the neighboring countries, shutting down all economic activity via the route. Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro first unilaterally declared the closure of the bridge in 2015, claiming Colombian guerrillas were flocking to Venezuela through Tienditas.
Beginning Thursday, the transit of vehicles, including private vehicles and public transportation, will be implemented progressively, according to officials from both sides. Venezuela and Colombia are working to get customs, migration and health controls ready and the Venezuelan side has carried out infrastructure repairs to allow the reopening. The reopening is expected to stimulate the economy on both sides of the border, where record low unemployment rates were registered before the closure.
Dec. 15 – U.K. nurse strike
British trade union Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced thousands of nurses will strike on Thursday amid a row over pay in its first industrial action in more than 100 years.
What’s happened so far
The unprecedented strike was called after the government refused to meet demands for a pay rise to National Health Services (NHS) nurses of 5 percent above inflation, representing a yearly cost of $12 billion. RCN said the dispute is not just about pay but also patient safety, as staffing levels are so low that care is being compromised. A recent poll also showed more than 70 percent of NHS trust leaders reported their staff was struggling to afford to travel to work. Furthermore, ambulance workers and other NHS staff are expected to strike Dec. 21.
A number of health services such as chemotherapy and dialysis have been excluded from the strike in efforts to ensure patients are not at risk. The Conservative party chairman Nadhim Zahawi received backlash after suggesting the timing of the strike would help Russian President Vladimir Putin divide the west. RCN’s general secretary responded by saying it was a “new low” for the government to “use Russia’s war in Ukraine as a justification for a real-terms pay cut for nurses in the U.K.”
Dec. 15 – Deadline to reach agreement on minimum wage raise in Colombia
The Colombian government is expected to announce an increase in the minimum wage for 2023 on Thursday.
What’s happened so far
The final minimum wage figure will be announced amid 12.53 percent inflation recorded in November, the highest in 23 years, following negotiations with trade unions and employers. Other factors being taken into consideration are productivity indicators, inflation projections for 2023 and the ability of the private sector to cope with the raise. According to projections, Colombians will be looking at a raise up to 15 percent and not lower than 11 percent. The country’s laws specify that minimum wage increases can never be smaller than inflation, which is forecasted to go down next year.
Colombia’s labor minister said the raise seeks to protect the purchasing power of workers and has expressed initiative from the government to explore further measures to alleviate the cost of living such as lowering tax for some products and subsidizing farming, especially amid ongoing floods that have left vulnerable rural areas completely destroyed. If negotiators fail to reach an agreement for Dec. 15, the last possible date to present the final number is Dec. 30. The government could also unilaterally impose the raise by decree as a last resort.
What Else Matters
China eases coronavirus restrictions
Following a rare weekend of protests at the end of November against rigid coronavirus lockdowns, China has taken a noticeable turn toward relaxing its pandemic response in recent days. At a national level, the tone from government officials and state media has pivoted from doubling down on zero-Covid to “optimizing” coronavirus prevention, along with assertions that the predominant Omicron variant has become “less pathogenic.” Major cities in China, including Beijing and Guangzhou, are dropping testing requirements to enter most public spaces, even amid the country’s largest-ever coronavirus outbreak. While these changes came soon after the Urumqi fire protests, they fall in line with earlier signals from authorities that China would be taking a different approach to coronavirus prevention after three years of zero-Covid. It’s not clear whether the demonstrations accelerated the process.
Watch for: Restrictions haven’t eased entirely in China — some districts have been newly designated as “high-risk” for coronavirus spread — but as of Wednesday, Beijing has announced its most drastic relaxation of measures yet, allowing people with mild symptoms to isolate at home instead of state facilities, as well as removing test requirements for travel between provinces. Coronavirus infections are likely to spread with eased restrictions, with many worried about how this will affect a large population of undervaccinated elderly people so close to the lunar new year period, though it’s likely the official number of cases may be affected by an overall decrease in testing.
Peru political crisis
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo was removed from office and detained by police on Wednesday after a chaotic constitutional crisis. Shortly before a third impeachment trial was set to begin, Castillo dissolved congress and installed a curfew. That led to Congress swiftly impeaching him and installing Vice President Dina Boluarte as leader of the country.
Watch for: Boluarte could call for new elections as a way to stabilize the country. However, that may not be necessary. She currently has the support of most members of Congress as well as Keiko Fujiimori, a right-wing former presidential candidate and daughter of an imprisoned former president. So far, most other countries have pledged support to Boluarte. If that changes, the impeachment process and political instability may start again.
Ukraine drone attacks against Russia
In Ukraine’s most significant attack on Russian territory since the February invasion, Moscow accused it of launching drone strikes against two air bases deep in Russia housing strategic long-range bombers. One such strike targeted Dyagelivo Air Base in Ryazan, just southeast of Moscow, killing three people and injuring multiple more. A second, more significant strike targeted Engels Air Base, Russia’s main strategic bomber base that has been the staging ground for countless missile strikes into Ukraine.
Watch for: The strike on Engels appears to have damaged at least one of Russia’s heavy bombers often utilized for in strikes on Ukraine, according to satellite imagery. With Ukraine demonstrating the capability to hold the air base at risk, it’s possible that Russia could disperse its bombers used for air-launched missile strikes, potentially even cycling more air assets into Belarus. It could also disrupt Russia’s recent trend of launching massive salvos of more than 100 cruise missiles into Ukraine at a time to overwhelm air defense and hit critical infrastructure. On Tuesday, Ukraine appeared to launch another attack, this time targeting an air base in Kursk, much closer to the border. Whether this marks the beginning of a more sustained effort remains to be seen, but Kyiv’s apparent successful strikes on such high-value targets deep in Russian territory is an ominous sign for Russia’s war effort.
Possible suspension of Iran’s morality police
During a press conference last weekend, Iran’s General Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri hinted at the abolition of the country’s so-called morality police. Known formally as the “Guidance Patrol,” the agency has been widely blamed for the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who fell in a coma after her arrest in September in Tehran. Her death has since sparked nationwide anti-government protests, which have consistently been dealt with repressively by regime forces who human rights groups accuse of having killed more than 440 people.
Watch for: There remains some uncertainty over the current status of Iran’s morality police, tasked with enforcing a strict Islamic dress code. Although Montazeri said the agency had been “closed from the same place it was established in the past,” the government did not confirm the move and local media then reported that his comments had been “misinterpreted.” The government is, however, appearing to distance itself from the group for the first time as the several outlets emphasized Montazeri’s comment insisting that the agency “has nothing to do with the judiciary.”
What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…
- Louisiana runoffs
- Finland resumes nuclear tests
- Brazil election certification
- Washington hosts U.S.-Africa summit
- IMF trip to Ghana ends
- EU-ASEAN Summit
- Fijian House of Representatives election
- European Council meeting
- NHS nurses strike
- Venezuela-Colombia border bridge reopens
- Deadline for Colombian minimum wage raise
- Tunisian Assembly of People’s Representatives Election
- Guinea-Bissau parliamentary elections
- Hanukkah begins
- World Cup final
- Kosovo municipal elections
- World Trade Organization General Council meeting
- Deadline to end Title 42 on U.S. border expulsions of migrants
- UK ambulance workers strike
- UK rail strikes
- Christmas Eve
- Christmas Day
Dec. 31 – Jan. 7
- Germany stops buying Russian oil
- New Year’s Eve
- New Year’s Day
- Biden, Trudeau in Mexico
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