Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Agnese Boffano discuss the uncertain future of Iran's morality police amid months of protest, plus more on the first summit between China and Arab states, European Union and Southeast Asian nations holding their first full summit, an important bridge between Colombia and Venezuela reopening to traffic and a strike by British nurses.
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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Hua Hsieh, Irene Villora, Jess Fino and Agnese Boffano. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
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Copyright © 2022 Factal. All rights reserved.
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 Dec. 8
In this week’s forecast we’ve got the first summit between China and Arab states, heads of state from the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asia Nations meeting, an important bridge between Colombia and Venezuela reopening to traffic, a strike by British nurses and a look at the uncertain future of Iran's morality police.
You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.
Information compiled by Sophie Perryer
JIMMY: Saudi Arabia will host a summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and at least 14 Arab leaders on Friday. That’s the final day of Xi’s state visit to Riyadh.
President Xi arrived earlier this week for his first trip to Saudi Arabia since 2016.
Prior to the visit, the 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 almost $30 billion, primarily related to energy and infrastructure.
Now, with this summit, China appears to be seeking to strengthen its influence in the Arab world by capitalizing on tensions between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
Those tensions include 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, but denied it was seeking to fill a power vacuum left by the United States in the Middle East.
Information compiled by Hua Hsieh
JIMMY: Heads of state from the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asia Nations will hold a joint summit for the first time in Brussels on Wednesday.
This inaugural full summit comes as the EU seeks to strengthen ties with the 10 member states in Southeast Asia. It also comes amid security concerns over Russia and China.
Talks are set to focus on developing supply chains and trade networks between the two blocs. That is, in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war and heightened tension between Washington and Beijing.
Now, 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.
Colombia-Venezuela border bridge reopens
Information compiled by Irene Villora
JIMMY: 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.
The reopening follows negotiations between the two governments that concluded in August and seek to normalize relations after seven years of hostile diplomacy. Those relations were particularly aggravated in 2019 when former Colombian President Ivan Duque’s administration recognized Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela.
Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro unilaterally declared the closure of the bridge in 2015, claiming Colombian guerrilla fighters were flocking to Venezuela through Tienditas.
Now, beginning next Thursday, the bridge opening will be implemented progressively, allowing the transit of vehicles, including private vehicles and public transportation.
Venezuela and Colombia are working to get customs, migration and health controls ready and the Venezuelan side has carried out infrastructure repairs.
The reopening is expected to stimulate the economy on both sides of the border, where record low unemployment rates were registered before the closure.
U.K. nurse strike
Information compiled by Jess Fino
JIMMY: Thousands of British nurses are expected to go on strike next Thursday. That is according to the Royal College of Nursing trade union.
It will be the union’s first nationwide strike in its 106-year history.
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.
The union 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.
Ambulance workers and other NHS staff are also expected to strike Dec. 21.
Now, 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.
Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi received backlash after suggesting the timing of the strike would help Russian President Vladimir Putin divide the West.
The nurse union’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 not giving nurses a real-terms pay increase.
Possible suspension of Iran's morality police
Information compiled by Agnese Boffano
JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the uncertainty of Iran’s so-called morality police. For more on that I spoke with fellow editor Agnese Boffano.
JIMMY: Hello, Agnese.
AGNESE: Hey, Jimmy, good to be back.
JIMMY: Glad you're here. You know, I'm sure by now most of our listeners are at least somewhat familiar with the protests that have been going on recently in Iran, but before we jump right into talking about the morality police, can you maybe give us a bit of a refresher? How long have these protests been going on and whatnot?
AGNESE: Of course, yeah. These protests have been ongoing across the country since about 48 hours after a 22-year-old girl called Mahsa Amini was arrested in mid-September while exiting a metro station in Tehran. And she was with her brother at the time and she was arrested for allegedly being dressed inappropriately. She later died while in police custody, and this sparked a series of demonstrations in the capital and across the country, and especially in the Kurdistan province where she's from. And as we know, these have been dealt with, with serious violence from Iranian forces. And the latest death toll that we have among protesters is that, more than 440 people according to several NGOs.
JIMMY: And the arrest, it was at the hands of the morality police?
AGNESE: Yes, exactly. So NGOs, human rights organizations and most protesters in the country have blamed the agency, the morality police, for Amini's death because after she was arrested by members of the group, she was then taken into a police station and then later died while in police custody. Even though authorities keep insisting that she supposedly had a heart attack at the station, then was transferred to a hospital nearby where she fell into a coma and then had another heart attack and died. But that's definitely not what her family is saying. Her family is saying that she had suffered great abuse at the hands of the police, which is what they say is clearly visible by signs of torture and severe beatings she received.
JIMMY: What exactly does this morality police do? Like, what's the actual function?
AGNESE: So the morality police, this agency, is formally known as the Guidance Patrol in Iran. And they're tasked with enforcing the strict Islamic dress code that has been mandatory in the country since the 1979 revolution. And they usually consist of a group of men, usually traveling in a van or a vehicle in cities across the country. And as was the case of Amini, she was then taken to a so-called reeducation class at the police station, and this usually takes place after the arrests of women like her, like her case. This usually lasts about an hour, but of course many Iranian women have since then spoken out about their inhumane treatment, both during the arrests and during these sessions, when they're taught how to dress in accordance with government and religious guidance.
JIMMY: So, obviously the protesters and many others have been calling for the morality police to be abolished, but what's the latest with that?
AGNESE: I mean, the topic of the morality police, yeah, it has obviously been a pivotal element of the anti-government sentiment, but it wasn't until the 10th of this month that we've actually heard some official statement regarding their performance, or somewhat official statement. And that was when a press conference was held, where Iran's General Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri – he hinted at the abolition of the Guidance Patrol, saying that the agency had been closed from the same place that was established in the past, is what he said. But there remains some uncertainty over their suspension because the government has not actually confirmed the move and local media was then very quick in reporting that the general prosecutor's comments had been, as they said, “misinterpreted” by foreign media and not actually true.
JIMMY: Is there any indication that the morality police are actually pulling back or not enforcing those government standards?
AGNESE: I mean, the only indication that would suggest, if not their complete suspension, at least that the government is slowly distancing itself from the agency, is that Montazeri emphasized that the judiciary, which is closely linked to the state, had nothing to do with the agency. And this particular statement as well has been picked up by several state-affiliated media outlets, which of course doesn't prove that the morality police has actually been disbanded, but at least shows that the government no longer wishes to associate itself with a group that they've now realized is and has been widely hated among Iranians.
JIMMY: Well , Agnese, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next?
AGNESE: We should definitely look for confirmation that the morality police has actually been shut down, which would mark an enormous shift from the government and a major demand reach from protesters. Having said that, I do doubt that this would have much effect on the government forces responding less repressively to any future anti-government sentiment in the country, but it would certainly mark a turning point in the protest movement that has now lasted for almost three months.
JIMMY: Well, Agnese, I think we'll leave it there for today but I thank you very much for giving us all caught up to speed
AGNESE: Thanks Jimmy, appreciate it.
JIMMY: Take care.
JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.
Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Hua Hsieh, Irene Villora and Jess Fino. Our interview featured editor Agnese Boffano and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.
Copyright © 2022 Factal. All rights reserved.
Music: 'Factal Theme' courtesy of Andrew Gospe