What We’re Watching: Biden in Europe, the Gulf States vs. Lebanon, Elections in Nicaragua, South Africa and Virginia

Biden’s Euro trip. President Joe Biden has opened a big euro trip that includes a series of bilateral meetings on both sides of the G-20 summit in Rome, which took place last weekend. The US President and the First Lady kicked off the trip by meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican – a meeting that produced some decidedly less spooky photos than when his predecessor held a papal visit. Biden has already met with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to talk about the resumption of the pandemic and with French President Emmanuel Macron to try to iron out strained relations after the AKUS debacle, which he said had been “clumsy.” The US president also met face to face with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan just a week after Ankara. threatens to expel the American ambassador, as well as other Western diplomats. But there is also a domestic element at play: Biden hoped he had passed two infrastructure bills. before he attended the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, which started on October 31st. Failure to do the deal on Capitol Hill would be a blow to Biden’s credibility just as he wants to bolster the United States’ commitment to climate change reduction goals at this week’s summit. and pretend, once again, that America is well and truly back! But Democrats continue to argue both over what’s in the bills and how to pay them. Meanwhile, only a third of Americans now say the United States is moving in the right direction. Biden hoped to have the wind at his back as he sailed to Europe. Instead, he faces a strong political headwind.

The Gulf States are attacking Lebanon. Cash-strapped Lebanon grapples with new crisis after Saudi Arabia excluded its ambassador, a decision quickly followed by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait in solidarity with Riyadh. The trigger ? A Lebanese minister had previously criticized the Saudis’ involvement in the ongoing war in Yemen, suggesting that the Riyadh-led coalition was the aggressor in a conflict with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Indeed, this latest episode reveals that Lebanon – which has long been plagued by sectarian tensions – is once again in the crosshairs of the Iran-Saudi rivalry. (Saudi Arabia stopped giving help in Beirut since the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement gained increasing influence in Lebanese political and social life.) But since billionaire tycoon Najib Mikati was appointed Prime Minister of Lebanon in September, the United States and the France were pressure to the Saudis to relax their intransigent approach towards Lebanon, which the Gulf regards as an Iranian client state, and to restore aid to the country in crisis, where three quarters of the population now live below the poverty line. The latest episode shows that despite speculation about a relaxation between Tehran and Riyadh, deep animosity persists.

Nicaragua’s mock election. At the end of this week, Nicaragua will hold a presidential “election”. We’re putting this in quotes because President Daniel Ortega, who has ruled the Central American country with a clenched fist since 2011, has eliminated all serious (and not even serious) competition. He controls the electoral authorities and since June his henchmen have arrested at least a dozen opposition figures. But things didn’t go well for Ortega, who led the left-wing Sandinistas during Nicaragua’s bloody civil war in the 1980s and has since reinvented himself as a devout, pro-business Catholic. In 2018, a botched social security reform sparked protests that quickly turned into a challenge to his authoritarian regime. Although he crushed the uprising with brute force, the growls of discontent continue. In addition, the United States and other partners in the region are already prepare a new series of sanctions in response to what is sure to be a bogus vote on Sunday.

The ANC is feeling the heat as South Africa votes. South Africans go to the polls on Monday to vote in local elections, considered the the biggest test for the ruling party, the ANC since the end of apartheid. The ANC, which has won every national election since 1994, could lose control of major cities, including Johannesburg, to the Democratic Alliance and coalitions of small independent parties, as many South Africans are fed up with it. corruption and government dysfunction. Indeed, in progress power outages are blamed on a state power company long suspected of corruption and on infrastructure crumbling due to years of financial mismanagement by successive ANC-led governments. President Cyril Ramaphosa, a pillar of the ANC, admitted (some) party mistakes and called on all of his candidates to sign a non-binding pledge to improve public services. More broadly, it is also the first time that the ANC will be confronted with voters since the deadly riots that followed the conviction of former President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court last July. Zuma is now on word as he faces a bribery trial, but he remains immensely popular – and a thorn in the side of his successor.

A nail rodent in Virginia. The campaign for the 2022 U.S. midterm election officially kicks off Tuesday, when Virginie vote to elect a new governor in a race widely seen as a temperature check on Joe Biden’s popularity after 10 months. Democrats are hoping former Gov. Terry McAuliffe will return to his old job so that the purple state doesn’t slip into Republicans before the 2024 presidential election. But GOP challenger Glenn Youngkin, a millionaire businessman backed by Donald Trump, caught up with the polls once comfortably conducted by McAuliffe in a campaign marked by education cultural wars. Now the two are at an impasse, and the outcome will likely be very close. A Youngkin victory would be a big boost for Republicans, who will gain momentum in midterm next year, where Democrats stand a good chance of retaining control of both houses of Congress. Moreover, it would increase the pressure on Biden, whose approval rate is plummeting, to mediate between the moderate and progressive wings of his party to pass a social spending bill, the hallmark of his platform. policy, which Democrats can sell to voters.

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