The World in a Glimpse – February 2023

Image credit: Lauren Schulsohn

By: Zain Khan and Aneri Shah


United States 

Shot Down Spy Balloon Prod Questions Over US-China Relations

A balloon first approached American airspace through the Aleutian Islands and racked up political turmoil as it drifted down the coast of the continental United States. American officials suspect that the target of this balloon was military bases, like Guam and Hawai’i. On Feb. 4, the balloon was shot down. Upon inspection of the remains of the balloon, it seems that surveillance equipment was indeed inside. China maintains that the balloon was a civilian research project.

The news of the balloon has been met with a lot of fervor in the United States. Three similar objects have been shot down, although it does not seem like they were anything other than scientific or weather projects. Additionally, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, whose Feb. 3 meeting with China was canceled, rescheduled it a few weeks later and offered stern warnings to the country. The balloon heightened the bipartisan exigence for creating new legislation for China, but lawmakers still seem unsure how to navigate the split Congress. 


Mexico’s Electoral ‘Reforms’ Spark Protests

Tens of thousands Mexican protestors wear white and pink — the colors of the National Electoral Institute — in solidarity against the new electoral changes proposed by President Lopez Obrador. The reforms would cut funding for local elections and reduce sanctions for candidates who do not properly report their campaign spending. Lopez Obrador insists that this money should instead be given to the poor, but Mexican citizens seem more skeptical: they fear a return to the 70-year reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (“PRI”). This return to the past would be undemocratic, and with less funding to the electoral institutions of Mexico, would be harder to stop. 



India hosts G-20 countries, Ukraine a hot topic 

The world’s most populous country and the fifth-largest economy, is all set to host the G-20 summit in 2023. While the country is enjoying its role as host of this week’s G-20 foreign ministers’ summit, it is also hoping that the discussion won’t be overshadowed by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. India, as the president of the G-20 major economies, intends to steer the agenda of the summit towards issues that are important for the Global South, such as climate change, food security, inflation, and debt relief. This is particularly relevant as three of India’s neighboring countries, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, are currently seeking immediate financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund due to the impact of rising global fuel and food prices on developing economies.


Uzbekistan to revise constitution, again 

In July, public unrest in the Karakalpakstan autonomous republic caused Uzbekistan to shelve plans for a constitutional overhaul. The amendments being considered mainly deal with property rights and taxation, but many suspect that the underlying motive is to extend President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s time in office. Although the plan was revived in November after removing provisions that would have weakened Karakalpakstan’s autonomy, lawmakers are still considering it. Recently, on Feb. 24, two parliamentary committees, namely the anti-corruption and justice committee, and the democratic institutions, NGO, and self-governance institutions committee, held discussions on the proposed constitutional changes.


Astana set to hold New parliamentary elections in March 

The parliamentary election scheduled for Mar. 19 is an important political event in Kazakhstan.  This day holds significance for the Kazakh people as it marks the day in 2019 when the country’s first President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, resigned after being in power for nearly three decades. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a former career diplomat and politician, took over as the new president after Nazarbayev’s sudden departure. Since assuming office, Tokayev has focused on enacting substantial political and economic reforms to transform the country. He believes that the upcoming election will reset the political system and give new impetus to the comprehensive modernization of Kazakhstan. The election is a logical continuation of the constitutional reforms that were implemented in 2022, following violent nationwide unrest, as part of a comprehensive program of economic and political reforms.



Iran’s Empty Promises of Amnesty

Earlier this month, Iran announced that it would free or reduce the sentences of many prisoners. This would be a celebrated development for many who were arrested in the protests. However, many human rights activists do not believe this is truly a cause to rejoice; amnesty would not apply to those charged with more serious crimes, which most demonstrators are. There are some prisoners charged with being “an enemy of God,” and have been executed or are now on death row. 

The resistance has not stopped. Many Iranian women in cities and towns are letting inches of their hair show from under a hijab, or refusing to wear one altogether. While many still adhere to the regime’s rules, videos of younger women in public places show them uncovered. Also, many celebrities and athletes are choosing not to wear the hijab while representing their country abroad. 

While mass protests have largely dissipated, especially due to the violence the regime has shown, daily acts of resistance, such as going out without a hijab, are still arising.  


Tensions escalate over Israeli occupation of Palestine 

In the occupied West Bank, specifically in the Nablus area, Israeli settlers have reportedly carried out over 300 attacks, including shootings and arson, on Palestinian villages in what Palestinian officials are calling a “pogrom.” The attacks have caused significant harm to Palestinian residents, including the shooting of a 37-year-old man named Samih al-Aqtash in the stomach, which resulted in his death. Al-Aqtash, a father of five, had returned home after volunteering in Turkey to help earthquake survivors.

The Palestinian Red Crescent has reported that at least 390 Palestinians were injured during the rampage, which affected the villages of Huwara, Zaatara, Burin, and Asira al-Qibliya, with most injuries being caused by tear gas and smoke inhalation from fires set by the settlers. Palestinian media have also reported stabbings and attacks with metal rods and rocks, with one person hospitalized for a skull fracture caused by a rock to the head and another person beaten with a metal rod to the face. All of these incidents were reportedly carried out by settlers protected by the Israeli army.

Turkey and Syria 

Earthquake leaves a death toll of over 50,000

On Monday, Feb. 6 at 4:17 a.m. local time, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, as reported by the United States Geological Survey. The quake was felt in several other countries including Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, and Lebanon. After the initial earthquake, dozens of aftershocks followed, including one with a magnitude of 7.5 that hit Turkey.The epicenter of the earthquake was located 26 km east of Nurdagi in Turkey’s Gaziantep province, with a depth of 17.9 km. The second event with a magnitude of 7.5 was centered about 4 km southeast of Ekinözü in the Kahramanmaraş province. The quake caused significant damage in Aleppo, a city in Syria already ravaged by war. The earthquake hit an area with millions of refugees who were already facing challenging circumstances, making the situation even more dire. Multiple 


Bola Tinubu Wins Nigerian Presidential Election

Bola Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos, won the Nigerian presidential election. He calls for “cleaning up” the state to gain back the lost government revenue from corruption. However, he himself faces allegations of corruption, especially pertaining to the origins of his wealth. Others worry that he is getting too old to perform the job adequately, especially as most Nigerians are young and some other candidates may have reflected this demographic better. 

Delays of the results seem to be partly a result of poor planning. Some elected officials showed up very late to the polls and without enough information on how to work the voting system. Additionally, violence has been variable in Nigeria, so there may be places in which voting was a dangerous affair. As the nation awaits its result, the sluggish nature of the election has led many to question the legitimacy of the voting system, calling it a ‘rigged election.’

South Africa

South Africa’s Foreign Policy Shifts Away From the Western Sphere

South Africa may be straying away from Western government and influences, as last month South Africa welcomed Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, for naval exercises with Russia and China. This forges a new path of foreign policy for South Africa; it seems to be shying away from its Western trading partners and allies in favor of Russian and Chinese influences. While this not only erodes its democratic principles, it is a curious move, as much of its international trade lies with the EU and America. 



The One Year Anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine War

The first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was marked this year on Feb. 24. Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a defiant speech, promising to endure and win the fight against Russia. While the Ukrainians remain steadfast in their determination to keep their country, they also took the moment to mourn the thousands who have died. 

Testaments to Ukraine’s strength have manifested themselves in ceremonies around the world. A minute of silence led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in front of Downing Street. A rally by protesters in Tokyo. A candlelit vigil in Melbourne. US President Biden visiting Zelenskyy in Kyiv. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shaken up the political order, especially when providing resources and weapons. As Ukraine enters its second year, the challenges will only heighten. 


Scottish First Minister Steps Down

Nicola Sturgeon, head of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and First Minister of Scotland, decided to step down this month. She has led Scotland for the past 8 years, through the COVID-19 pandemic and the narrowly defeated independence referendum.

In her last months, she has clashed with Westminster. She is an advocate for another independence referendum, especially post-Brexit, which the U.K. government has refused to grant. She also drew a lot of criticism for her moves regarding transgender rights; she supported legislation to make it easier for people in Scotland to legally change genders. After pushing the bill through the Scottish parliament, it was vetoed by the Sunak administration; this caused many to worry how it would affect the passage of the SNP’s agenda.

With many drawing parallels to Jacinda Arden, the New Zealand Prime Minister who also decided to step down, Sturgeon claimed that her decision to bow out was not influenced by recent events but rather that good service also means knowing when to step down. 

United Kingdom

Britain’s Trade Deal with Northern Ireland post-Brexit

Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Ursual von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, struck a trade deal in regard to Northern Ireland. After months of difficulty, the deal would make it simpler to ship goods between Britain and Northern Ireland. Sunak named this new deal the “Windsor Framework,” after working out the final terms in Windsor. This may also function as a nod to the new king, who showed up in support of Sunak’s new plan. Some found the king’s attendance strengthening. Others affirmed that the monarch should have remained apolitical. 

The timing of the deal was also important. Without the trade deal, Northern Ireland and the UK could have returned to a hard border, just on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Biden, who pressured Sunak to make a deal with the EU before his trip to honor the anniversary, endorsed this trade deal. 

With the deal struck, Northern Ireland’s governmental institutions may now return to their functioning state. Additionally, the deal has had mixed reactions from Parliament, and if it goes into action, will serve as a legacy to Mr. Sunak. 


 Nearly 1M French March Against Pension Changes

France’s pension protests this month drew out nearly 960,000 thousand people across various cities of France. President Emmanuel Macron wants to pass legislation that raises the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 to be eligible for full state pension. 

While this particular round was not accompanied by rail protests, there was a surprising air traffic controller strike that caused many flights to and from Paris to be canceled. Previously, these protests have been on the weekdays, so with the fourth round landing on a weekend, many who could not previously attend, like students, showed up to add their voices. Police have had to use tear gas and arrests to quell unrest. While Macron insists a reform to the pension system was in his campaign promises, strong opposition is rooting across France.