Our Top Weekend Reads

Swedes can’t figure out their government’s coronavirus approach, a progressive push on U.S. foreign policy, and an honest assessment of the Arab Spring’s fallout.

By , an assistant editor at Foreign Policy.
A near-empty square in Stockholm
A near-empty square in Stockholm
A near-empty square in Gamla Stan, Stockholm, on Dec. 4. Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images

Sweden has long enjoyed a sort of wholesome global image: home of Ikea, Pippi Longstocking, and meatballs in cream sauce. But that reputation has taken a beating during the coronavirus pandemic, as the country became a lone proponent of herd immunity and floundered accordingly. Now, the government has instituted some restrictions, but confusion remains as to how Swedes should behave toward the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, progressive groups have developed a robust strategy for laying down roots in U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign-policy ranks. 

And, a decade after the Arab Spring, a look at the permanence of an enduring, but never consummated, revolution.

Sweden has long enjoyed a sort of wholesome global image: home of Ikea, Pippi Longstocking, and meatballs in cream sauce. But that reputation has taken a beating during the coronavirus pandemic, as the country became a lone proponent of herd immunity and floundered accordingly. Now, the government has instituted some restrictions, but confusion remains as to how Swedes should behave toward the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, progressive groups have developed a robust strategy for laying down roots in U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign-policy ranks. 

And, a decade after the Arab Spring, a look at the permanence of an enduring, but never consummated, revolution.

Here are Foreign Policy’s top weekend reads. 


A nurse wearing personal protective equipment in a tent at the Sophiahemmet private hospital performs tests on a patient to look for symptoms of COVID-19 in Stockholm on April 22.
A nurse wearing personal protective equipment in a tent at the Sophiahemmet private hospital performs tests on a patient to look for symptoms of COVID-19 in Stockholm on April 22.

A nurse wearing personal protective equipment in a tent at the Sophiahemmet private hospital performs tests on a patient to look for symptoms of COVID-19 in Stockholm on April 22.Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

1. Sweden’s Second Wave Is a Failure of Government—and Guidance 

Rattled by a staggering second wave of coronavirus infections, Swedes are less opposed to mask recommendations and social-distancing guidelines than they are puzzled by their government’s chronic mixed messaging—a result of infighting between the prime minister and public health officials, Carl-Johan Karlsson writes.


U.S. President-elect Joe Biden gives a thumbs-up as he leaves Pennsylvania Hospital after a follow up appointment at the radiology department December 12 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden gives a thumbs-up as he leaves Pennsylvania Hospital after a follow up appointment at the radiology department December 12 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden gives a thumbs-up as he leaves Pennsylvania Hospital after a follow-up appointment at the radiology department, in Philadelphia on Dec. 12. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

2. Progressives Try to Sway Biden on Top Foreign-Policy Jobs

Though progressives have recently won some key posts in Biden’s cabinet, his foreign-policy team is still fairly establishment. But the left isn’t fretting—yet: Cabinet posts are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to political appointments, and they’ve got a plan for putting down roots at a lower level, FP’s Jack Detsch reports. 


A man mourns the death of seven members of a family in Syria
A man mourns the death of seven members of a family in Syria

A man mourns the death of seven members of a family, killed in a house hit in a reported airstrike by pro-regime forces in the town of Sarmin in the northern Syrian Idlib province, on Feb. 2.Omar Haj Kadour/AFP via Getty Images

3. Betrayed by Their Leaders, Failed by the West, Arabs Still Want Democracy

The Arab Spring was less a coordinated, democratic movement than a series of localized struggles against decades of failed governance. Ten years on, the fact that those struggles instead provoked further repression is not just an indictment of brutal Arab dictatorships, but also of the Western countries that embrace them, Oz Katerji writes.


A young man pushes a cart in front of Tigrayan flags at Martyrs Square in the city of Mekelle, on Sept. 9, 2020.
A young man pushes a cart in front of Tigrayan flags at Martyrs Square in the city of Mekelle, on Sept. 9, 2020.

A young man pushes a cart in front of Tigrayan flags at Martyrs Square in the city of Mekelle, Ethiopia, on Sept. 9. EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images

4. The War in Tigray Is a Fight Over Ethiopia’s Past—and Future

There are fears that the burgeoning civil war in Ethiopia could lead to one of the largest state collapses in modern history. That’s ironic given what the conflict is all about: not whether Ethiopia should exist, but how it should be governed, Teferi Mergo writes.


Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on June 14, 2019.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on June 14, 2019.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on June 14, 2019. VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP via Getty Images

5. China Won’t Rescue Iran

China is making inroads in Iran. But observers shouldn’t be too worried about the prospect of a robust Beijing-Tehran alliance. China cares far more about courting the West than wooing Iran, and it won’t risk further U.S. sanctions by saving Iran from its own financial peril, Wang Xiyue writes.

 

Allison Meakem is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @allisonmeakem

More from Foreign Policy

A propaganda poster from the 1960s shows Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
A propaganda poster from the 1960s shows Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

Xi’s Great Leap Backward

Beijing is running out of recipes for its looming jobs crisis—and reviving Mao-era policies.

A textile worker at the Maxport factory in Hanoi on Sept. 21, 2021.
A textile worker at the Maxport factory in Hanoi on Sept. 21, 2021.

Companies Are Fleeing China for Friendlier Shores

“Friendshoring” is the new trend as geopolitics bites.

German children stand atop building rubble in Berlin in 1948.
German children stand atop building rubble in Berlin in 1948.

Why Superpower Crises Are a Good Thing

A new era of tensions will focus minds and break logjams, as Cold War history shows.

Vacationers sit on a beach in Greece.
Vacationers sit on a beach in Greece.

The Mediterranean as We Know It Is Vanishing

From Saint-Tropez to Amalfi, the region’s most attractive tourist destinations are also its most vulnerable.