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- We’re taking off tonight from Tunisia and making our way to Tokyo (1,965 words, 7½ minutes).
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Supporters of the Ennahda party clash with police during a sit-in outside Parliament. Photo: Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto via Getty
Tunisia’s decade-old democracy hangs in the balance after President Kais Saied removed the prime minister and suspended Parliament yesterday.
Why it matters: Tunisia was the lone democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring, and remains the only democracy in the Arab world. But the country’s politics have been deadlocked amid an economic crisis and its worst COVID-19 wave, leading to weeks of anti-government protests.
Driving the news: Saied invoked a constitutional provision to claim emergency powers for the next 30 days and to dismiss Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, after a monthslong power struggle.
Between the lines: The initial reactions on the streets of Tunis seemed to be of jubilation, a sign of just how deep the frustration with the government had grown.
Turkey rejected Saied’s move while its regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Egypt offered tacit support.
The backstory: Saied, a political newcomer and constitutional law professor who won a shock election in 2019, has positioned himself as an outsider — a famously uncharismatic alternative to slicker political operators in Tunis, says Intissar Fakir, director of the Middle East Institute’s North Africa and Sahel program.
But he had also been setting the stage for a power grab, says Sarah Yerkes, a Tunisia expert at the Carnegie Endowment. The protests provided “a good moment to take what could have been a very risky action.”
What to watch: If Saied will quickly name a new prime minister and lay out a path forward or "slow walk it until it’s the norm that he’s in charge of everything," Yerkes says.
President Kais Saied during an appearance today. Photo: Anadolu Agency via Getty
Before the protests and even before the pandemic, two-thirds of Tunisians were dissatisfied with the way democracy was working, per Pew.
By the numbers: Trust in the government had fallen to 15% by March, according to polling from Arab Barometer.
The big picture: Those findings challenge the narrative of a democratic success story. Tunisians still express pride at their revolution a decade later, but many think it has gone astray.
What to watch: "In the short term, this gives people the big, dramatic change that they want," Fakir says. "But is this really going to make it any easier for him to govern, saying nothing about the democratic process of course?"
French President Emmanuel Macron is covered in garlands on a visit to Tahiti. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty
1. The U.S. combat mission against the Islamic State in Iraq will be completed "by the end of the year," President Biden said today while hosting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Axios’ Jacob Knutson writes.
2. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has stepped up airstrikes to fend off a Taliban offensive against Kandahar — a highly symbolic target. The Taliban has been rapidly gaining ground but has yet to take a major city.
3. French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for an investigation of the licensing of spyware from Israeli firm NSO to governments around the world amid reports that Morocco’s security services may have used it to target his phone.
4. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit to China took on a confrontational tone after her counterpart Xie Feng accused the U.S. of “a whole-of-government and whole-of-society campaign ... to bring China down,” Axios’ Zach Basu writes.
5. Sierra Leone abolished the death penalty — the 23rd country in Africa to take this stand, per Voice of America.
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We're visiting an archipelago (red pin) that currently has the highest vaccination rate of any country on Earth, with 84% of the population fully vaccinated.
Hint: To the left of your screen, you'll see a country that is featured prominently in this evening's newsletter.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The world bet big on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Flashback: By this time last year, the viral vector vaccine had emerged as a leading candidate, secured a production deal with the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, and was being ordered in bulk at a low, not-for-profit price.
Then things started to go wrong.
Then came another supply crisis as India suspended exports during a brutal second wave, setting COVAX back by months and underlining just how dependent the initiative was on a single vaccine from a single producer, the Serum Institute of India.
What I’m reading: Politico Europe’s Jillian Deutsch and Ashleigh Furlo took a deep dive into what went wrong with AstraZeneca’s shot, including an interview with Adam John Ritchie of the Oxford lab that developed the vaccine.
Americans who disagree on everything else will still be rallying around the same team in Tokyo, as a new Axios/Momentive poll makes clear.
Yes, but: They're sharply divided over whether athletes should use the Olympic stage to protest, with young adults more likely than older adults to approve of protests and less likely to feel pride in the U.S. flag.
What we're watching: Nearly one in four Americans (23%) say they'll be rooting against athletes from China.
Americans are more likely to be cheering for neighbors and allies like Canada (39% for, 8% against), Mexico (30% for, 10% against), the U.K. (35% for, 8% against) and the hosts, Japan (27% for, 11% against).
Of note: See the polling methodology here.
The U.S. has long been an Olympic power, competing with the USSR in the medal table throughout the latter part of the 20th century and now competing with China every four years. View the interactive chart
Highlight of the weekend: Amid all the worrying news from Tunisia, there was also a historic victory.
More headlines from Tokyo:
Go deeper: Meet team USA
A nice night for some field hockey in Tokyo. Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty
"It is not conceivable that in these times they want to punish an independent country with a blockade. I think that President Biden must make a decision about it."— Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador today, pressing Biden to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba
Answer: Malta, with Tunisia to the west and Sicily to the north.