World update: July 7 2020

Stories from the UAE, India, Nigeria, and more

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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY

July 6, 640: The Battle of Heliopolis

July 6, 1917: The Battle of Aqaba

July 6, 1967: The Nigerian Civil War begins when Nigerian forces invade the breakaway Niger Delta region of Biafra. The conflict eventually settled into a Nigerian blockade of Biafra, precipitating a massive humanitarian crisis in which hundreds of thousands of people (high estimates run to around 3 million) died of preventable causes, mostly starvation. A final Nigerian assault in December 1969 led to the Biafran rebels’ surrender a month later.

July 7, 1937: The Marco Polo Bridge Incident, a clash between Chinese and Japanese troops near Wanping, ends with the Chinese force holding the bridge but still forced to make concessions to the superior Japanese force in order to end the confrontation. This relatively minor incident sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War.

July 7, 1991: The Brioni Agreement ends the Slovenian War of Independence. The agreement required Slovenia and Croatia to delay their independence bids for three months in exchange for the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army from both republics. In reality this marked the end of the Slovenian phase of Yugoslavia’s disintegration, while having no effect at all on the war in Croatia.

INTERNATIONAL

Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for July 7:

  • 11,941,783 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (4,551,158 active, +207,752 since yesterday)

  • 545,652 reported fatalities (+5512 since yesterday)

In today’s global news:

  • The World Health Organization says it’s monitoring new evidence suggesting that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus behind your favorite global pandemic, may be spreading via airborne transmission. This is different from transmission via sneezing or the like and would mean that the virus is able to travel from person to person in the air, without having to be carried in a droplet of fluid. If the virus can spread this way it would, among other things, make authorities’ “stay six feet apart” advice substantially less efficacious (though not entirely pointless). It would also argue against reopening schools and other places where people spend considerable time in an enclosed space with other people, regardless of whatever social distancing protocols are in place.

  • The Trump administration sent its formal WHO withdrawal letter to the United Nations on Tuesday, triggering a 12 month exit process and potentially a fight with Congress. The administration may not be able to quit the WHO without Congressional approval, though that’s an open question at this point.

MIDDLE EAST

SYRIA

  • 372 confirmed coronavirus cases (unchanged)

  • 14 reported fatalities (unchanged)

The Turkish military says that at least six people were killed and 11 wounded Tuesday in a car bombing in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad. The Turks are accusing the Kurdish YPG militia of carrying out the attack.

The Russian and Chinese governments have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended the operation of two humanitarian aid border crossings from Turkey into northwestern Syria. The Russians, who already forced the closure of two other border crossings in January, have offered their own resolution maintaining one of the two remaining crossings, whose operations both expire this month. Hundreds of thousands of people get food and medical aid via these border crossings, but the Russians view their existence as a way to sustain Syrian rebels. The fewer crossings there are, the more humanitarian aid has to run through the Syrian government, which gives it greater leverage against the remaining rebel groups.

Speaking of the Syrian government, Russia, and the rebels, a new report from the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria accuses all three of committing war crimes in northwestern Syria. The report alleges intentional Syrian and Russian airstrikes, as well as artillery strikes by the Islamist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham rebel group, against civilian targets in the region. It also charges HTS with torturing and summarily executing prisoners.

TURKEY

  • 207,897 confirmed cases (+1053)

  • 5260 reported fatalities (+19)

European Union foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell visited Ankara this week to try to figure out how to ease tensions between Turkey and the EU without a key piece of European leverage:

Now Borrell heads back to Europe to tend to the difficult task of mitigating EU-Turkey discord, though he does so without the aid of the bloc’s traditional platform for mitigating ties with Turkey: the EU accession process.

With membership talks stalled since at least 2016, analysts say Borrell and EU leaders must create a new negotiating table for Ankara and Brussels to address shared interests and sort out regional disputes.

“It is very clear that Turkey-EU relations are in a stalemate and accession negotiations are frozen,” Ilke Toygur, an analyst of European Affairs in Elcano Royal Institute, told Al-Monitor. “This is a very fragile status quo, and any development in the eastern Mediterranean or any moves in Libya may have severe consequences,” she added.

Turkey is economically dependent on the EU, and that could serve as the basis for a new modus operandi in the absence of membership talks. But the EU doesn’t agree internally on Turkish issues, which weakens its negotiating position.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

  • 32,222 confirmed cases (+1473) in Israel, 4647 confirmed cases (+306) in Palestine

  • 342 reported fatalities (+8) in Israel, 18 reported fatalities (+1) in Palestine

The Egyptian, French, German, and Jordanian governments issued a joint statement on Tuesday saying that they will not recognize any Israeli annexation in the West Bank and warning that said annexation could have negative consequences for Israel’s bilateral relationship with all four of them. I don’t know if I should put a spoiler alert on this sentence, but there won’t be any negative consequences. None of these governments actually cares about the Palestinians enough to take any serious action except possibly Jordan, and it’s handcuffed by its dependence on US and Gulf aid.

In the short term there’s no downside to Israel annexing as much or as little of the West Bank as its leaders desire. It’s in the long term where problems will arise. The AP is probably right to suggest that Jerusalem is the model for what the annexed parts of the West Bank will look like, and that’s something very akin to apartheid. The parts of the West Bank that aren’t annexed will look worse. The farcical “two-state solution” won’t even be a pretense anymore, which leaves one state as the only alternative. A single Israeli-Palestinian state can either be a democratic one that is no longer entirely Jewish, or a Jewish one that’s no longer a democracy. The Israelis will likely choose the latter, and that aforementioned apartheid will be harder and harder to ignore. Right now the two-state farce allows people to argue that the existing state of apartheid is only temporary, that someday everybody will get on the same page and the Palestinians will have their own state. Annexation will make it harder to keep pretending. The change won’t happen instantly but it will happen.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

  • 52,600 confirmed cases (+532)

  • 326 reported fatalities (+2)

A Daily Beast investigation has uncovered a network of fake experts who have been planting pieces in a variety of media outlets and seem to have some affinity for the UAE:

If you want a hot take about the Middle East, Raphael Badani is your man.

As a Newsmax “Insider” columnist, he has thoughts about how Iraq needs to rid itself of Iranian influence to attract investment and why Dubai is an oasis of stability in a turbulent region. His career as a “geopolitical risk consultant and interactive simulation designer” and an “international relations senior analyst” for the Department of Labor have given him plenty of insights about the Middle East. He’s printed those insights at a range of conservative outlets like the Washington Examiner, RealClear Markets, American Thinker, and The National Interest.

Unfortunately for the outlets who published his articles and the readers who believed them, Raphael Badani does not exist. 

His profile photos are stolen from the blog of an unwitting San Diego startup founder. His LinkedIn profile, which described him as a graduate of George Washington and Georgetown, is equally fictitious.

Badani is part of a network of at least 19 fake personas that has spent the past year placing more than 90 opinion pieces in 46 different publications. The articles heaped praise on the United Arab Emirates and advocated for a tougher approach to Qatar, Turkey, Iran and its proxy groups in Iraq and Lebanon.

SAUDI ARABIA

  • 217,108 confirmed cases (+3392)

  • 2017 reported fatalities (+49)

We can all breathe a sigh of relief this evening, as the United Kingdom has decided to resume weapons sales to Saudi Arabia even though the Saudis keep oopsie using them on Yemeni civilians. A British court ordered those arms sales to stop last year because it said the government hadn’t done enough to ensure they wouldn’t be used in Yemen, which technically violates their export license but, to reiterate, oopsie! Trade Secretary Liz Truss said that an official review found that those oopsies only amounted to “isolated incidents”—yes, hundreds of isolated incidents, that’s right—rather than a systematic policy. The UK government has now apparently made the Saudis extra double promise not to use British weapons in Yemen or else, and so it considers its obligation to the court fulfilled. It was the least they could do.

IRAN

  • 245,688 confirmed cases (+2637)

  • 11,931 reported fatalities (+200)

An explosion killed two people at a factory in southern Tehran on Tuesday. Authorities are calling it the result of “human error,” and there’s no particular reason to think it was deliberate except for the fact that stuff in Iran just seems to keep blowing up these days, and in at least some cases it’s pretty clear that the explosions are deliberate.

ASIA

AZERBAIJAN

  • 21,374 confirmed cases (+537)

  • 265 reported fatalities (+7)

In an interview on Monday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev lambasted both Armenia and the Minsk Group, the French-Russian-US body that’s supposed to be mediating peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Aliyev’s criticism of the Minsk Group is fairly unusual and suggests a troubling move to reject negotiations altogether. Armenia and Azerbaijan have a longstanding beef over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway majority Armenian region of Azerbaijan, and while that conflict has cooled off a bit amid the pandemic it’s never too far from flaring up again.

INDIA

  • 743,481 confirmed cases (+23,135)

  • 20,653 reported fatalities (+479)

Unnamed Indian officials have told the AP that both Indian and Chinese forces are withdrawing from their disputed border in the Galwan Valley region and satellite imagery suggests they’re even dismantling some of the recent fortifications they’ve built there. Tensions have remained high since last month’s deadly brawl between Indian and Chinese soldiers in which 20 Indians and an unknown number of Chinese were killed. Both sides have talked about deescalating, but these initial moves away from the “Line of Actual Control” are the first substantive steps taken in that direction. The underlying issue—a poorly defined border and competing claims over strategically useful areas like Galwan—remains despite any efforts to ratchet things down in the short term.

CHINA

  • 83,565 confirmed cases (+8) on the mainland, 1300 confirmed cases (+14) in Hong Kong

  • 4634 reported fatalities (unchanged) on the mainland, 7 reported fatalities (unchanged) in Hong Kong

The WHO says there’s no reason to worry about the recent diagnosis of a plague case in Inner Mongolia. And my bad jokes aside, there really isn’t one. Plague is very treatable and there are in fact hundreds of cases reported every year, including in the United States, but humanity keeps rolling on anyway.

A group of Uyghur exiles calling itself the “east Turkistan government in exile and the East Turkistan national awakening movement” is pushing the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into China’s Uyghur internment program and its other alleged crimes against the Uyghur people. China isn’t a member of the court, but the group is focusing on cases of Uyghurs deported from Tajikistan and Cambodia to China. Since Tajikistan and Cambodia are ICC members, there is a case to be made that the court has jurisdiction. There’s a precedent for this in the ICC’s investigation of Myanmar’s crimes against the Rohingya, which relied on the fact that some acts had taken place across the border in ICC member state Bangladesh.

The Trump administration slapped a new set of visa restrictions on an unspecified group of Chinese officials on Tuesday, this time over Tibet. There’s an oldie but goodie for you. The administration accused Beijing of preventing outsiders, including diplomats and journalists, from accessing Tibet. The administration is also apparently thinking about banning Chinese-made apps, including the popular (or so my daughter leads me to believe) TikTok. The Indian government has gone this route in the wake of last month’s border clash with Chinese troops. There are theoretical concerns that TikTok might share user data with Beijing, though the company insists it’s never been asked and wouldn’t share that data if it were. Several other apps are potentially at risk of losing the US market, but none would be harmed by it as much as TikTok would.

AFRICA

SUDAN

  • 9997 confirmed cases (+103)

  • 622 reported fatalities (+6)

Al Jazeera reports on ongoing demonstrations in central Darfur, where residents are angry that Sudanese security forces aren’t protecting them from paramilitaries:

NIGERIA

  • 29,789 confirmed cases (+503)

  • 669 reported fatalities (+15)

The International Crisis Group looks at the mixed performance of the Lake Chad Basin’s anti-Boko Haram Multinational Joint Task Force:

The Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) is an effort by the Lake Chad basin states — Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria — to pool resources against jihadists that threaten all four countries. The joint force has carried out periodic operations, often involving troops from one country fighting in the country next door. Offensives have won victories and helped instil an esprit de corps among participating troops. But nimble militant factions have regrouped fast, and the MNJTF’s effectiveness has suffered from confusion over priorities, the four states’ reluctance to cede command to the force itself, and funding and procurement delays. A successful response to militancy in Lake Chad will depend not only on the joint force but also on whether states can improve conditions for and inspire more trust among residents of affected areas. But an improved MNJTF could help such a strategy. Lake Chad states should boost its planning and communications capacity, intelligence sharing, human rights compliance and civil-military coordination. They should then reach consensus with donors on financing.

KENYA

  • 8250 confirmed cases (+183)

  • 167 reported fatalities (+3)

A group of activists organized a protest in Nairobi on Tuesday against Kenyan police brutality, and unsurprisingly Kenyan police responded in brutal fashion, dispersing what had been a peaceful demonstration with tear gas and multiple arrests. Kenyan police have been under heavy scrutiny for alleged human rights violations, particularly amid the pandemic and its related social lockdown requirements.

EUROPE

SERBIA

  • 16,719 confirmed cases (+299)

  • 330 reported fatalities (+13)

Thousands of opposition supporters protested in downtown Belgrade on Tuesday, at one point storming into the Serbian parliament building, to protest plans to reimpose strict lockdown measures amid a rising coronavirus infection count. Among other things, the crowd chanted for the resignation of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, whose government they blame for the resurgence in new cases.

HUNGARY

  • 4205 confirmed cases (+16)

  • 589 reported fatalities (unchanged)

Hungary’s president, János Áder, sent letters to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Tuesday asking them to take more responsibility for all the plastic waste their countries are dumping into the Tisza and Someș rivers. Both of those rivers run through Hungary, and therefore so does all the plastic, and the Hungarian government has been unable to cope with it.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

  • 1,674,655 confirmed cases (+48,584)

  • 66,868 reported fatalities (+1312)

Hey, it turns out that Jair Bolsonaro has contracted the coronavirus.

I’m sure he’ll be fine (Brazilian government via Wikimedia Commons)

Bolsonaro began complaining of symptoms after meeting on Saturday with US ambassador Todd Chapman, who will now presumably be getting tested as well. A lot of people will undoubtedly take this as Bolsonaro getting his just desserts for downplaying the pandemic and flaunting his own government’s lockdown rules over and over again. But the truth is Bolsonaro did everything but roll around in a petri dish full of SARS-CoV-2 and it’s still taken months for him to get it. He’s certainly a test case in refusing to quit while you’re ahead.

VENEZUELA

  • 7411 confirmed cases (unchanged)

  • 68 reported fatalities (unchanged)

The Venezuelan Supreme Court on Tuesday ousted the leader of would-be president Juan Guaidó’s Popular Will political party, Leopoldo López. In his place it appointed a new leader who was kicked out of Popular Will last year amid allegations that he was too chummy with Nicolás Maduro’s government. Electoral authorities have already barred Popular Will from running in December’s National Assembly election anyway, so this move seems a bit superfluous. Though I suppose the party could be reinstated under more compliant leadership, and anyway the main goal is probably to strip away any semblance of political legitimacy from Guaidó. Most opposition parties are planning to boycott the election anyway under the presumption that it will be rigged.

UNITED STATES

  • 3,097,084 confirmed cases (+55,442)

  • 133,972 reported fatalities (+993)

Finally, over at his excellent Substack Patrick Wyman looks at the much-lamented breakdown of American institutions:

This line of reasoning has real merit. Lines are being crossed. Norms are being violated. Institutions are crumbling. Things are falling apart. That was the case even before the pandemic and a wave of pent-up anger over our blatant racial inequities placed a crushing series of weights on every layer of American governance, from the presidency down to county public health offices. There’s genuine value in grasping precisely what’s breaking, where, how badly, and why.

To be clear, I’m as guilty of this as anybody else; in fact, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time over the past four years bewailing ongoing breakdowns and trying to understand their implications. I still don’t think it’s understood enough just how messed up various essential aspects of the American political system have become, though the pandemic is doing a good job of driving that point home.

Instead of doing more lamenting, as good as it might feel, I want to take a step back to define some terms and break down the system itself. What do we even mean when we say “political system”? What, exactly, is an institution? And why does any of this matter in the grand scheme of things?