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Forecast: North Africa reeling after double disaster, anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death in Iran, and UNGA begins in New York

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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.

A powerful earthquake in Morocco and a devastating flood in Libya left thousands of people dead and many more injured or unaccounted for over the weekend. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Ahmed Namatalla discuss the latest updates and how the dual disasters on the North African coast threaten to strain relief efforts in the region. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of September 15-22
A Look Ahead

Sept. 15 – Deadline to move minors from Louisiana prison  

A federal judge has ordered all minors being held at the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola be removed by Friday, saying the teenagers’ constitutional rights have been violated.

What’s happened so far 
The state began transferring juvenile inmates to Angola last fall, claiming the move would be temporary while renovations were completed at another facility in the wake of an incident that saw six teens escape. The announcement drew stark condemnation from critics who claimed the prison favors punishment over rehabilitation, while the emergency motion that led to the judge’s order argued that the extensive use of solitary confinement and a lack of air conditioning during stretches of extreme heat negatively impacted the mental health of detainees

The impact 
Louisiana officials have filed a motion requesting a stay of the judge’s decision pending an appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming “a substantial risk” of “serious bodily injury” to inmates, prison staff and the public if the teens can no longer be held at Angola.

Sept. 16 – Mahsa Amini’s death anniversary

Saturday marks one year since Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, was killed following her arrest by Iran’s security forces.

What’s happened so far 
In September 2022, Mahsa Amini was arrested by Iran’s so-called “morality police” while visiting family members in Tehran, reportedly for not wearing the mandatory headscarf in accordance with government standards. Although Iranian security services claim she died in police custody after suffering from a heart attack, family and friends who both witnessed her arrest and saw her body say she was severely beaten by police and died as a result of her injuries. Since then, near-weekly protests across several Iranian cities have been met with brutal repression from security forces. Human rights organizations place the death toll since the start of the unrest at more than 500 as of January, with approximately 2,000 people arrested. 

The impact 
Days before the anniversary, Amini’s uncle was arrested by security forces and reportedly taken from the Kurdish city of Saqqez to Tehran, according to human rights groups. Residents have over the last few days witnessed newly erected snap checkpoints and barriers across major cities and around university campuses ahead of planned nationwide protests on the day. Disruption to internet connectivity over the past week is also expected to continue into the days leading to the anniversary as hardliners in Iran’s parliament continue to push for a ratification of legislation that would further restrict social media access.

Sept. 18 – World Court hears Russia’s objections to genocide case brought by Ukraine  

Starting Monday, the International Court of Justice, or World Court, will hear Russia’s objections in a case concerning last February’s full invasion of Ukraine. 

What’s happened so far 
Ukraine initially filed a case with the World Court shortly after Russia’s full invasion last February to challenge Moscow’s justification, which in part invoked an alleged genocide against Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. In an initial ruling handed down last March, the World Court ordered Moscow to immediately cease military action in Ukraine. 

The impact 
Any World Court decision will have little to no impact on events on the ground in Ukraine, given that the court possesses no enforcement mechanism for rulings. The ruling will come as Ukraine’s grinding counteroffensive continues pushing into occupied territory in southern Ukraine. Progress remains slow and costly, though Ukraine has recently reached the first major Russian defensive positions along the main counteroffensive thrust seeking to push south to sever Russia’s land bridge to Crimea. U.S. President Biden is also set to make a decision soon regarding the delivery of long-range ground-launched missiles to Ukraine, a potentially significant development that would increase Kyiv’s ability to hold Russian targets at risk behind frontlines.

Sept. 18 – Indian government calls for special session of parliament  

On Monday, the Indian Parliament will convene for five days in a special session called by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

What’s happened so far 
The special session, bringing together the country’s Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha houses of parliament, was announced earlier this month, with no particular agenda disclosed initially. Convening until Friday, Sept. 22., speculation has been rampant over possible announcements from the session, with opposition parties critiquing the move for being made without prior consultation or warning. The government later shared that the session will look back at 75 years of parliament. It will begin in the old parliament building and will then be moved to the new building just opposite.

The impact 
According to speculation, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could be eyeing up various announcements, the most prominent being an official change to the country’s name from “India” to “Bharat” as seen recently at the G20 summit in New Delhi. Another reason could be to announce Modi’s controversial “One nation, one election” agenda, set to postpone several state elections in order to synchronize with parliamentary elections ahead of 2024. Calls have been made by opposition leaders to discuss a variety of other topics, including continued conflict in Manipur, a bill seeking to reserve 33 percent of state assembly and parliament seats for women, and other points. 

Sept. 18 – Former Mexican FM to announce “national political movement”

Marcelo Ebrard, the former foreign minister of Mexico, will begin a nationwide tour on Monday amid threats to leave the ruling Morena party.

What’s happened so far 
Ebrard, a close ally of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, resigned as foreign minister in June to compete for Morena’s presidential nomination in the 2024 election. He was seen as a frontrunner along with the former mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum. However, following an internal process, the party announced Sheinbaum would be the candidate. Ebrard asked for that process to be annulled and reportedly presented evidence of “irregularities.” The party is standing behind Sheinbaum and she is now the frontrunner to be the next leader of the country. 

The impact 
If Ebrard creates a new party to run for president, it could throw a wrench into Morena’s plans. The opposition coalition has already selected Xóchitl Gálvez, a center-right senator, as its candidate, so adding Ebrard to the race could potentially split the Morena vote. It could also bring unwanted press to Sheinbaum during a time in which she wants to show unity in the party ahead of the campaign. AMLO also could, in an unprecedented move, step in and campaign against his former foreign minister.

Sept. 19 – UNGA begins general debate  

The United Nations General Assembly will hold its 78th session in New York City starting Tuesday.

What’s happened so far 
During this year’s high-level debate, heads of state and government and other officials will discuss current global challenges to peace, security and sustainable development through an approach of building global solidarity and rebuilding trust between nations and in institutions. The general assembly will also be dominated by conversations about the environment as it will take place immediately after the Sustainable Development Goals summit. Other important debates will revolve around global health and future pandemics prevention. 

The impact 
Among the expected outcomes of the five-day meeting are a joint statement on the participating countries’ commitment to progress toward meeting the 17 sustainability targets of the 2030 Agenda. Some of this year’s absences include Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Sept. 22 – Pope Francis visits Marseille  

Pope Francis will travel to the southern French city of Marseille next Friday for a two-day visit.

What’s happened so far 
Earlier this year, Pope Francis announced he would travel to Marseille to take part in the Mediterranean Encounter, a meeting of 120 young people with bishops from 30 countries. He will be welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron before heading to a meditation dedicated to the sailors and migrants lost at sea.

The impact 
The pope has previously described the Mediterranean as Europe’s “largest cemetery” amid the high number of refugees who die every year trying to cross into the continent from Africa and the Middle East. He is expected to call on European authorities, like he has done in the past, to take action in preventing these deaths. This trip also adds to Francis’ busy schedule this year after a trip to Africa and to Lisbon for the World Youth Day only weeks after leaving hospital following an abdominal surgery.

What Else Matters

A large tracked digging machine sorts through heavy rubble as a single individual searches the remains of a building.
A Moroccan Red Crescent volunteer assists with search and rescue activities following the magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck the country on Sept. 8, 2023. (Photo: Moroccan Red Crescent Society)

Morocco earthquake

With almost 3,000 people killed in last week’s earthquake, Morocco’s government has come under pressure to accept more international aid as the death toll looks set to rise further. The Moroccan government has been selective in taking up international offers, wanting to retain control and avoid a potentially chaotic situation, authorities in the country said. Aid from countries including the United Kingdom, Spain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates has been given the green light. France, which has strained relations with Morocco due to its colonial-era past, said controversy over Morocco’s decision is misplaced and it stands ready to assist.

Watch for: Rescue operations are continuing but the likelihood of finding survivors in the rubble decreases as time passes. Some areas devastated by the temblor, including those in the vicinity of the High Atlas Mountains range, are so remote that help has been slow to reach them, a problem exacerbated by damage to roads, power outages and strain on communications networks. The death toll is expected to rise in coming days as remote areas are reached.

Libya flooding 

More than 6,000 people have been killed in flooding in northeastern Libya, marking one of the worst recorded natural disasters in North Africa. Domestic and international rescue crews are still searching for thousands of people reported missing in the aftermath of Storm Daniel’s passage on Sunday. The storm triggered widespread flooding from Benghazi to the Egyptian border, breaching a dam outside the city of Derna and sweeping away entire neighborhoods.

Watch for: After more than a decade of civil war that yielded competing governments and de facto partition of the country into two regions, Libya’s emergency-response capabilities were already diminished. Now the country’s eastern leadership is pleading for help from abroad and is receiving some from allies including France, Italy and Egypt – though the scale of devastation is likely to leave the region in ruins for years to come. Libya’s rival governments have been talking about holding national elections for years, though it remains to be seen whether this disaster will infuse urgency for the need to move forward with polls and create a central government.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Sept. 15-22 

Sept. 15

  • Federal judge orders end of detention of minors at Louisiana prison

Sept. 16

  • Mahsa Amini’s death anniversary

Sept. 18 

  • World Court to hear Russian objections to Ukraine case
  • UN General Assembly begins
  • Saudi Arabia’s ADES International Holding is set to list in Riyadh
  • Former Mexican FM to announce “national political movement” 

Sept. 20

  • Sri Lanka says China’s Sinopec to start operations

Sept. 22

  • Pope Francis visits Marseille, France

Sept. 23-29 

Sept. 23 

  • 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China

Sept. 26

  • Investiture vote of PM candidate Feijoo at Spain’s parliament

Sept. 27

  • Second debate for U.S. Republican presidential candidates

Sept. 30-Oct. 6

Sept. 30

  • Slovak parliamentary election
  • Maldives election runoff

Oct. 1 

  • New fiscal year for U.S. government

Oct. 2

  • Start of former U.S. President Trump’s civil trial in Manhattan

Oct. 3

  • Provincial election in Manitoba, Canada

Oct. 5

  • 3rd European Political Community Summit

Oct. 7-13 

Oct. 7

  • Mexican Navy takes over operations of Mexico City International Airport

Oct. 8

  • Luxembourg general election

Oct. 10

  • Liberia election
  • Venezuela’s opposition primaries

Oct. 11

  • Mozambique local elections

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Top photo: Students at Iran’s Amir Kabir University protested in September 2022 following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. (Photo: Darafsh / Wikimedia Commons)

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