Your Monday Briefing: In Mideast, Biden Eyes China and Russia

We’re covering President Biden’s efforts to curb Russia and China’s influence in the Middle East, and Egypt’s repressive system of pretrial detention.

In a series of encounters with Arab strongmen in Saudi Arabia this weekend, President Biden emphasized why he was strengthening ties with allies he had previously criticized for anti-democratic behavior.

“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” Biden said at a meeting with Arab leaders on Saturday.

Beyond the traditional justifications for American involvement in the region — such as securing oil and keeping a military presence — Biden is driven largely by a belief that close ties may be the only way to accomplish his larger goal of containing Russia and China.

Biden’s effort here to negotiate greater oil production in the Middle East is driven by the need to make Russia pay a steep price for invading Ukraine. So far, the Russians have managed to maintain much of their oil revenues in part because of the jump in the price of oil. Biden also pushed for closer telecommunications agreements with the Saudis — an industry in which China has been able to wield its influence abroad.

The wail of air raid sirens has become so common in Ukraine that some locals now often ignore them and go about their life.

But after a series of deadly missile attacks, the government is urging Ukrainians to be vigilant. “I’m begging you, once again: Please don’t ignore the air alert signals,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

A U.S. military official said that between 100 and 150 civilians may have been killed in Russian strikes in Ukraine last week, including an attack in the city of Vinnytsia that killed 23 people, among them Liza Dmytriyeva, a 4-year-old with Down syndrome. On Sunday, at least 10 Russian missiles rained down on Mykolaiv in the second significant attack on the southern port city in two days.

In Egypt, it has become almost routine for security forces to arrest someone, accuse them of terrorist activity without proof, and detain them for months or years without ever having to prove their case at trial.

Pretrial detentions have become Egypt’s chief engine of mass repression under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has cracked down on his critics on a vastly greater scale than his predecessors.

One case involved the arrest of a politician mulling running against el-Sisi; another, two women on a Cairo subway overheard complaining about rising fares; a third, a young conscript who posted a Facebook meme of el-Sisi wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

But while detentions have ramped up in recent years, they have operated almost entirely in the dark — no public records exist of how many people are held in pretrial detention. An analysis by The New York Times counts for the first time the number of detainees and exposes the circular legal process that can hold people indefinitely.

In the six months from September 2020 to February 2021, about 4,500 people were trapped in pretrial detention, a number based on a conservative estimate. At least one in four of the detainees had spent more than a year in detention, their cases extended without trial over and over again.

Seeking to alleviate both the local problems of deforestation and the global problems of biodiversity loss and climate change, companies and nonprofits have been promoting worldwide campaigns for planting trees — with the aim of growing a trillion new trees. But reaching that goal is easier said than done.

Lives Lived: Ivana Trump, the glamorous Czech-American businesswoman whose marriage to Donald Trump in the 1980s established the pair as one of New York’s quintessential power couples of that era, died at 73.

Some 29 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have premiered since 2008 — an average of almost two per year. In those 14 years, critics predicted that audiences would eventually get tired of superhero movies. In The Times, one media analyst warned of “superhero fatigue” in 2011. Asked about it last year, a quarter of U.S. adults said they enjoyed superhero movies but were getting tired of them.

But that sentiment is not reflected at the box office. “Thor: Love and Thunder” opened last weekend and earned $302 million worldwide, grossing more in its U.S. debut than previous Thor movies. Earlier this year, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” made $954 million worldwide. And 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” finished its run at $1.9 billion.

Next up: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” this November. Its 2018 predecessor made $1.3 billion.

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