Why Sri Lanka’s Unrest Is an Omen

JULY 11, 2022, FP Newsletter

One year ago today, thousands of people took to the streets across Cuba to protest the skyrocketing prices of essential goods. It was the largest event of civil unrest on the island since the 1990s—and as journalist Lillian Perlmutter writes in a riveting dispatch, a disproportionate number of those arrested in an ensuing crackdown on dissent came from Havana’s poorest enclaves. Perlmutter reports that new laws passed by the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power in May threaten citizens’ civil liberties further, criminalizing any participation in an unauthorized demonstration of two or more people, punishable by four to 10 years in prison.

Over the weekend, electric images from the other side of the world in Sri Lanka showed protesters inside the president’s house: swimming in his pool, watching his TV, and even showering. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s family has dominated Sri Lankan politics for two decades now, and its populist regime has been widely criticized for economic mismanagement, corruption, and the brutal way it ended the nation’s civil war in 2009. But as Mark Malloch-Brown reminds us, Sri Lanka is an omen. “While Sri Lanka’s woes are as much of its own making as fueled by global trends,” the president of the Open Society Foundations writes, “they are an ominous marker of what’s to come in a world that seems able to handle just one crisis at a time—and often not even that.”

U.S. President Joe Biden is set for a busy week of confronting many crises all at once. He will be in Israel on Wednesday and Thursday and then in Saudi Arabia over the weekend. International affairs experts Aaron David Miller and Steven Simon provide a rundown on everything you need to know ahead of Biden’s Middle East trip. Miller and Simon are skeptical of the U.S. president’s ability to make much of a difference. “Israel and the Arabs will take what the U.S. president has to give, but they are acutely aware of his diminishing political currency and have begun to look past him toward the return of former U.S. President Donald Trump or his avatar,” they write. –The editors

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