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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Tigrayan forces withdraw from key Ethiopian regions, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai denies making sexual assault allegations , and Egypt sends three prominent activists to prison.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Tigrayan forces withdraw from key Ethiopian regions, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai denies making sexual assault allegations, and Egypt sends three prominent activists to prison.
If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.
Tigrayan Forces Announce Retreat From Afar and Amhara
More than a year into Ethiopia’s brutal civil war, Tigrayan rebel forces have announced plans to withdraw all troops from Afar and Amhara, two highly contested regions.
“We trust that our bold act of withdrawal will be a decisive opening for peace,” Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray region, said in a letter to the United Nations. “We propose an immediate cessation of hostilities followed by negotiations.”
The war, which broke out in November 2020, has taken a deadly toll. For months, Ethiopians have faced mounting humanitarian crises: ethnic cleansing campaigns in Tigray, widespread famine conditions, aid blockades, and the weaponization of sexual violence. Throughout the conflict, all parties—Ethiopia’s central government, allied with neighboring Eritrea, and the opposing Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)—have been suspected of committing atrocities.
In the letter, Gebremichael called for a no-fly zone over Tigray and arms embargoes on the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments while denouncing the international community’s humanitarian inaction throughout the conflict.
By issuing the letter, “the TPLF has reset the narrative,” said Cameron Hudson, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “They’ve been able to put responsibility on the international community for failing to defend them, and they’ve now put the ball in the government’s court.”
Sharp turn. Just a month ago, Tigrayan forces appeared to have the upper hand. In November, the government declared a state of emergency as it braced for the TPLF’s advance on Addis Ababa, even going so far as to call on citizens to defend the city from a military assault. But after being armed with a steady supply of Emirati, Turkish, and Iranian combat drones, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s fortunes slowly shifted.
“It’s been clear that in the last few weeks, the Tigrayans had been losing ground on the military front,” Hudson said. “I think the question that we have to ask is: Is this a tactical retreat to buy time, to rearm, and to regroup? Or is this truly a kind of strategic reset for the TPLF?”
What’s next? With the Tigrayans’ terms now on the table, much now rests on how Abiy chooses to respond. In recent weeks, the government reportedly closed schools to support the war effort while thousands of civilians left their jobs to enlist in the army.
“It’s now a question as to whether or not the government is going to extend their hand in peace,” Hudson said.
What We’re Following Today
Growing concerns. Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who disappeared from public life after making #MeToo allegations against a high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official, has now denied making the accusations. “I’ve never claimed or written about anyone having sexually assaulted me,” she said in a video interview while insisting she was “very free” and wasn’t coerced into making any statements. She added: “There’s been a lot of misunderstanding.”
Her remarks did little to allay fears over her current status or whether she could speak freely. “These appearances do not alleviate or address the [Women’s Tennis Association’s] significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” the Women’s Tennis Association said.
Cairo cracks down. In the latest blow to Egyptian civil society and human rights, authorities sentenced three well-known activists to several years in prison for “spreading false news undermining national security.” The three men—political activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah, human rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer, and popular blogger Mohamed Ibrahim—have been detained since the government cracked down on anti-government protests in 2019. Under Egyptian law, they cannot appeal their sentences.
Keep an Eye On
Turkey’s collapsing currency. Turkey’s currency, the lira, plunged to record low values on Monday after falling for months. Since September, the lira lost an estimated 40 percent of its value as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan consistently cut interest rates, despite climbing inflation and warnings over his economic policy.
Ankara’s currency crisis may soon fuel a global Nutella shortage. Turkey dominates in hazelnut production, a key ingredient in Nutella, producing an estimated 70 percent of the world’s hazelnuts. The lira’s plunge, however, has driven up essential production costs, thereby straining hazelnut farmers—and the supply of the creamy spread.
Tit-for-tat expulsions. After Berlin expelled two Russian diplomats last week, Moscow retaliated with two diplomatic expulsions of its own on Monday. The original source of friction was the 2019 murder of a Chechen rebel in Germany: Last week, a German court ruled the Kremlin was behind the assassination and ordered Russia’s diplomats out.
“This move comes as no surprise, but it is completely unwarranted from the federal government’s perspective,” the German Foreign Ministry said. “Today’s decision by Russia’s Foreign Ministry puts renewed strain on the relationship.”
Omicron surges. The omicron variant is now the United States’ dominant COVID-19 strain, accounting for 73 percent of last week’s new infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “[Omicron] is now dominating in Africa, has taken over in England,” U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, Anthony Fauci, said on Monday. “And right now, as I speak to you in the United States, more and more of the isolates that are being identified in sequence are of omicron.”
Odds and Ends
Job seekers need look no further than Piel Island, a tiny English island that is searching for a new pub manager, landlord, and island monarch—all in one person. Successful applicants would be in charge of the island’s pub, the Ship Inn, and also have to manage the island itself.
John Murphy, who leads walks to the island, told the Guardian the job would require a serious commitment. “You can’t just nip across to Tesco for a loaf of bread when you’re on Piel Island,” he said. “You’ll need to have dedication and a strong passion for isolation and peace and quiet. It takes a special personality.”