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"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.
The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.
Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truck loads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.
When some of al-Bashir's allies flipped in 2019, a bloody power struggle ensued (hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed) before a transitional government – made up of six civilians and five military personnel – was appointed for a three-year transition period, at which time democratic elections were to be held. Since then, the very tenuous government has remained mostly intact despite ongoing violence and ethnic clashes.
However, things got particularly heated in recent weeks, as a November 17 deadline loomed for the civilian wing to take control of the government's decision-making body. (Per the power-sharing agreement, the military's representatives had mostly been calling the shots.)
Clashes broke out on the streets between pro-democracy activists and military loyalists, before the government's military wing took charge this week, declaring a state of emergency and seizing power. Civilian leaders and ministers – including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdak, an economist who previously worked at the UN – have been arrested.
What does this mean for Sudan? At a basic level, it makes the prospect of democracy more illusory. The likelihood of fresh elections going ahead next year as planned is slim given that the military personnel who staged the coup are former allies of al-Bashir who built a career on quashing dissent.
What's more, there was also hope that when the civilian wing took over , al-Bashir would be handed over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague to face charges over his government's brutality in Darfur (2003-2009). But because al-Bashir's extradition and testimony would expose crimes committed by some of the generals, that's likely to be a moot point, too – at least for now.
Moreover, if the takeover stands, it'll be a massive economic blow for Sudan, which has been trying to revive economic ties with the international community after years of sanctions and isolation. In late 2020, the US removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism list, restoring Khartoum's access to global financial markets and international aid. This paved the way for crucial debt relief from institutions like the IMF, so the transitional military-civilian government in Khartoum could access the cheap international credit it needs to address the country's deep economic crisis. This is all at stake now.
Who cares what's happening in Sudan? Well, several countries are surely keeping a close eye on unfolding events.
Egypt has been trying to improve cross-border relations with Sudan in recent years, after the two countries had long been locked in a border dispute over access to the mineral-rich Halayeb triangle. More recently, Cairo and Khartoum have joined forces against Ethiopia amid a messy dispute over water access in the Nile. Though Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is no democracy warrior, he is hardly interested in seeing more instability and chaos on Egypt's southern border.
Meanwhile, Turkey – which backs Ethiopia in the water dispute – has been pushing to play a larger political and economic role in Africa, and to build a port off Sudan's Red Sea coast that would be a hub for Muslim pilgrims crossing the Red Sea to Mecca.
Additionally, Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have capitalized on the ousting of al-Bashir to bring Sudan under their sphere of influence. In exchange for certain concessions (like tempering ties with the Gulf states' nemeses in Qatar and Iran), the Saudis and Emiratis have lushed Khartoum with cash. (Though the Saudis have backed off a bit, the Emirates have continued to act as a key powerbroker in Sudan.)
What happens now? The signs are ominous: Khartoum's airport is closed, and the internet has been shut down. Meanwhile, coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan said that elections could take place in July 2023, but trust is low and fears are high of a return to civil war.
What We’re Watching: Erdogan picks 10 fights, Sudanese coup, Bosnia on the brink, Chilean right-winger surging, G-20 split on climate, Colombia nabs top narco
Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the EU's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.
Coup in Sudan: Sudanese soldiers have seized power in a coup, arresting the head of the transitional civilian-military government and declaring a state of emergency. In recent days, Khartoum has been rocked by rival protests from pro-democracy groups and supporters of the military wing of the government, which the latter wanted to dissolve entirely. What's more, a blockade set up by a pro-military tribal leader in eastern Sudan had interrupted the flow of goods and food to the capital — a recipe for disaster in a country already experiencing sky-high inflation and shortage of basic products. The possibility of a military takeover by troops loyal to former dictator Omar al-Bashir has haunted Sudan since Bashir — now pending trial for war crimes in The Hague — was ousted in 2019. The situation got even more tense as we got closer to the November deadline for the military to hand over control to the civilian wing in the supreme council, which has the final say on all national matters under a power-sharing agreement. That deal was supposed to pave the way for elections in 2022, but the coup has changed the equation.
Bosnia on the brink: Bosnia is facing its worst political crisis since the end of the bloody Yugoslav civil war in 1995, which pitted ethnic Bosnians against Serbs and Croats and left more than 100,000 dead. What's going on? Well, when that war ended, the peace agreement created a special enclave within Bosnia for ethnic Serbs — the better to keep warring ethnicities apart. This has always been a messy arrangement, but now the nationalistic leader of that enclave, Milorad Dodik, is threatening to secede altogether, amid a spat over new laws meant to ban denial of the genocide that Serbs carried out against Bosnian Muslims during the war. A breakup of Bosnia could quickly lead to serious violence, and both the EU and US staunchly opposed the move. But Dodik is undaunted. He says that Serb-only institutions will be in place as soon as November. Asked how he'd pull this off, Dodik — who recently oversaw provocative military drills that spooked Bosnia's other ethnic groups — responded: "as the Slovenes did it." That's a not-so-veiled reference to the breakup of former Yugoslavia, which led to years of bloodshed. Indeed, it's not a good omen, and raising fears of a return to the deadly violence of the 1990s.
Right-winger on a roll in Chile: José Antonio Kast, an ultra- conservative politician who pines for the days of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, has ridden a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to the top of the polls ahead of next month's presidential election. He's currently at 21 percent, one point ahead of leftist former student leader Gabriel Boric. Talk about political whiplash: it was just a few months ago that Chileans elected a broadly leftwing constituent assembly to rewrite the country's Pinochet-era constitution in the wake of mass protests about inequality. But Kast, an avowed free-marketeer and social conservative, has tapped into rising resentment against the vast numbers of migrants – in particular from Venezuela and Haiti – who have arrived in the country in recent years. Last month, for example, saw an outbreak of violence against Venezuelan refugees in the northern city of Iquique. Kast has called for digging ditches along the borders and wants a special police force to root out illegal migrants. In the last presidential election, Kast got less than 8 percent of the vote. This time he's making a race of it.
G-20 members split on climate ahead of COP26: Just before the COP26 climate summit kicks off in Glasgow on October 31, the leaders of the world's top 20 economies will meet in Rome to discuss climate change, soaring energy prices, and post-pandemic recovery. But the G-20 remains divided between Western countries – like the US and the EU – demanding firm commitments from all member countries on cutting carbon dioxide emissions, and top polluters like China, India, and Russia who say that demand is unreasonable given that many Western nations have benefited from fossil fuel use for decades. Of these three outspoken countries, only India's PM Narendra Modi will travel to Rome, which makes it unlikely that any meaningful progress will be made ahead of the landmark summit in the UK. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden is in a tough spot: ahead of a trip to Europe this week, he was hoping to have secured billions of dollars in new climate funding from Congress, but his ambitious plans remain stuck due to divisions within his own party. More broadly, if no consensus is reached in Rome, it'll raise the stakes even more for Glasgow — and the planet can't wait any longer for politicians to make up their minds.Colombia nabs top drug kingpin: Colombian security forces have arrested Dairo Antonio Usuga, the most-wanted drug kingpin in the country since Pablo Escobar. Usuga – known by his alias Otoniel – is head of the notorious Gulf Cartel, and will likely be extradited to face a slew of charges in the US, which had a $5 million bounty on his head. While some say Otoniel's capture is a big win for Colombia, others say that rather than striking a blow against narco-related violence, the strategy of taking down kingpins creates more power struggles within cartels, in turn leading to more violence and bloodshed. This was the case following the 1993 death of Escobar and the 2016 arrest of "El Chapo" Guzmán in Mexico. Still, if Otoniel spills the beans on his operations in exchange for a lighter sentence in America, that could provide critical intelligence for Colombian and US drug enforcement to better target other narcos at a time when large swaths of rural Colombia are now ruled by gangs, contributing to regional instability.
What We’re Watching: ASEAN shuts out Myanmar, Russian hackers strike again, Afghans risk winter starvation
ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.
Another big Russian hacking operation: Hack me once, shame on me. Hack me twice? Just months after US President Joe Biden slapped sanctions on Russia over a massive Kremlin-backed hacking campaign that targeted US businesses and government agencies, the Russians are at it again. Microsoft, which is increasingly functioning as a de-facto cybersecurity department of the US, says Russia's powerful SVR foreign intelligence agency is behind a new, "very large" and "ongoing" operation to swipe cloud data from US government agencies, think tanks, and corporations. On the one hand, operations like this are now run-of-the-mill cyber-spying, which all governments (including yours, wherever you are) do to each other. But the optics of the Kremlin launching a massive operation of this kind just six months after Biden deliberately soft-pedaled Russia sanctions in an effort to "de-escalate" US-Russia tensions… are NOT good.Afghanistan faces starvation: The UN's World Food Program has warned that without urgent action, more than half of Afghanistan's 38 million people are at risk of starving this winter. Since the Taliban took over the country in August following the US withdrawal, the country has fallen into an economic tailspin. That's partly because Western donors and international lenders — who are loath to recognize the Taliban — have cut the flow of foreign aid, which accounts for up to 40 percent of Afghanistan's GDP. The WFP says that it needs more than $200 million a month to meet the food needs of the country. Last week, the IMF warned that Afghanistan's economic collapse could generate a fresh and regionally destabilizing migrant crisis.
Hard Numbers: Record-high carbon levels, Chinese property taxes, US hits Russia on “homeless nationals,” German IS conviction
149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.
5: China will conduct a five-year pilot program to test a nationwide property tax in parts of the country. Xi Jinping wants to rein in speculation in the real estate market following the Evergrande debt crisis and to redistribute wealth more equitably under his much-touted "common prosperity" vision.
1,200: Russians hoping to get a US immigrant visa in Moscow will now have to travel 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) to apply at the US embassy in Warsaw, Poland. Washington has classified Russians as "homeless nationals" — who can only solicit visas in third countries — in response to the Kremlin recently limiting the number of American diplomats it will accredit to work in Russia.10: A German woman who joined the Islamic State in Iraq was sentenced to 10 years in jail for letting a five-year-old Yazidi girl she and her IS husband had purchased as a slave, die of starvation. The woman was arrested in Turkey in 2016 and later extradited to Germany, where she was tried under universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity.
Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:
Why should all eyes be on the Virginia suburbs?
I'm here in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where the state will be having a gubernatorial election on November 2nd. The Virginia governor election is held in the year after the US presidential election typically, and is generally seen as a bellwether for how popular the incumbent president of the United States is. In 2009, the Republican candidate won by a commanding 16 points despite the fact that Virginia has been trending more and more Democratic in recent years due to the population growth here in the suburbs, which tend to be more blue than rural areas of the state.
The race is close, which is a little bit surprising because last year, Virginia went [Democratic] by for 10 points. So the competitiveness of the Republican candidate is being seen as a sign of weakness of Joe Biden, potentially correlated with his slide in approval ratings and also an indication that maybe some of the strength of a Democratic Party is related to backlash against Donald Trump who's not on the ballot this time around.
The Democrats are running a former governor and an insider's insider, who was the former head of the Democratic National Committee. The Republicans are running a private equity executive who looks a lot like a reborn version of Mitt Romney, the former presidential candidate for the Republicans, which is surprising in a party that's been trending more and more in Donald Trump's favor.A win or a narrow loss for the Republican would be seen would affirm a narrative of backlash against Joe Biden and his policies, would affirm that his low approval rating could potentially be a weight on Democrats in next year's midterm elections and show that voters are getting frustrated both by COVID, high energy prices, and potentially school board issues, issues of education, which has been a major issue in this election. If the Democrat wins comfortably, then all that narrative will be largely deflated. Democrats can prove that they can continue to win in Democratic areas by running against Donald Trump, and it will help Joe Biden going into the midterm elections.
Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.
Hard Numbers: Rich countries (still) hoarding vaccines, German border vigilantes, Nigerian jailbreak, China’s border law
16: Rich countries have secured 16 times more COVID vaccine supplies than developing nations that rely on the struggling COVAX facility, according to analysis by the Financial Times. COVAX is steadily losing bargaining power to buy vaccines at low prices due to the combined effects of booster shots being doled out in developed countries, as well as low-income countries deciding to buy jabs on their own.
50: German police stopped more than 50 armed ultra-nationalists from patrolling the Polish border, where they were trying to prevent non-EU migrants who had crossed into Poland from Belarus from entering Germany. The vigilantes had been egged on by Third Way, a far-right organization with links to neo-Nazi groups.
575: Around 575 inmates escaped after gunmen attacked a prison in southwest Nigeria. It's the third big jailbreak in the country this year, and underscores the decline in the country's security situation over the past year.22,100: China has passed a new law governing its 22,100 kilometers (13,700 miles) of land borders with 14 countries. The law — which allows Beijing to use military force to settle border disputes — comes amid persistent border tensions with India in the Himalayas, as well as new fears that militants from Afghanistan might cross the border into Xinjiang.