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What We're Watching: Jordanians vote, Trump's DOD shakeup, Russian navy in Sudan

Jordan prepares for parliamentary elections. Reuters

Jordan's lackluster election: Amid a massive surge in coronavirus cases, Jordanians headed to the polls this week to elect 130 members to the lower house of parliament. Of more than 4.6 million eligible voters, only 29 percent showed up, the lowest turnout in many years, largely due to fear of COVID-19, a deepening economic crisis, and disillusionment with Jordan's unrepresentative political process. The system favors pro-monarchy tribal candidates and cronies loyal to the all-powerful King Abdullah II, who appoints all Senate members and can unilaterally dissolve parliament. This time, the main opposition party, linked to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, won only 10 seats, five less than in 2016, while women candidates reaped only 15 seats, largely because of a quota system. The Jordanian Kingdom has long been accused of overseeing an electoral system that under-represents cities that are Muslim Brotherhood strongholds, favoring more sparsely populated cities that support the Hashemite monarchy. Indeed, the Jordanian government has its work cut out for it amid a surging pandemic and worsening economic crisis — on top of the burden of providing refuge for some 650,000 Syrians.


Trump's DOD moves: It's been a busy week at the Pentagon. First, President Trump fired US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, before proceeding to dismiss other career staffers at the Department of Defense, replacing them with Trump loyalists. The motives for the shakeup during a lame-duck presidency are unclear. Initially, some analysts surmised that the president was trying to ensure that the US military would have his back if he refused to vacate the White House when Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20, 2021. But now some experts are suggesting that what Trump really wants is to expedite the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Trump, according to that hypothesis, was frustrated at Esper and the generals for pushing back against the president's longtime plan to get all the troops home by Christmas amid rising intra-Afghan violence.

Russian navy in... Sudan? Russia is planning to build a navy base in Sudan — its first in Africa since the end of the Cold War — to gain access to the Red Sea. In exchange, the Sudanese will get Russian weapons and air support for its navy. The deal comes as President Vladimir Putin is seeking to expand Russia's military footprint across the continent by building up to six bases in African countries. Putin's strategy is a simple one: shore up authoritarian regimes that are friendly to Moscow, including with Russian mercenaries to fight on their behalf. Interestingly, the Sudan deal is going ahead despite the fact that it was approved three years ago by Omar al-Bashir — the country's former dictator who was deposed in 2019 — but didn't go through because al-Bashir was worried about being perceived as cozying up to Moscow and peeving the US. Sudan is now on the cusp of being removed from the US' state sponsor of terrorism list, allowing it to access financial markets. Is Khartoum hedging its bets by playing both sides?

Knowing the secrets of the Earth requires a great deal of exploration and intellectual curiosity. Fit for this job is geologist Giuseppe Valenti, Eni's Senior Vice President, whose role is to explore below the Earth's surface and understand the history, movements and age of each single grain of sand. Today, he is able to go underground without leaving the office thanks to new technologies and advanced x-rays that relay real-time data. Though working in the lab is distinctly different from his past adventures traveling the world, Giuseppe is not nostalgic for the past. He says he will always be Indiana Jones in spirit.

Watch the latest Faces of Eni episode to learn more about Giuseppe's inspirational life.

The person a US president taps to assume the coveted role of secretary of state, the nation's top diplomat, says a lot about that president's foreign policy ambitions and global vision.

Indeed, the selection of Henry Kissinger (Nixon and Ford), James Baker (George H.W. Bush), Hillary Clinton (Obama) and Rex Tillerson (Trump) to head the State Department, provided an early window into the foreign policy priorities — or lack thereof — of their respective bosses.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday, Thanksgiving week. Things starting to look increasingly normal in terms of outlook, in terms of having all of these vaccines. I understand that the next few months in the United States are going to be incredibly challenging, but so much easier when you see that there's light at the end of the tunnel and you know where that's coming. Most recently, the AstraZeneca announcement, which for me, in some ways is a bigger deal globally, even than what we've seen from Moderna and Pfizer, because it doesn't require freezing, it's just refrigeration, which means that countries around the world that don't have the infrastructure to deal with this cold chain requirements of these vaccines will be able to use another set of vaccines with different technology. That's not just AstraZeneca, it will be Johnson and Johnson. It's the Russians. It's the Chinese.

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Although the United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, until recently the trajectories of their COVID-19 outbreaks have been vastly different, with the EU seeming to have kept the pandemic mostly in check during the summer months. The US has now surpassed twelve million total infections as most states, particularly in the Midwest, are fighting massive outbreaks. But now Europe is doing even worse: states across the continent are seeing an uptick in average infection and mortality rates that dwarf those of the US, leading several European countries to implement fresh national lockdowns. Here's a look at the seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases, and three-day rolling averages of new deaths and new deaths per capita in the EU vs the US since March.

Guatemala in crisis: In the latest unrest to hit the streets of a Latin American capital, a group of demonstrators — angry about a controversial new budget — set fire to the Guatemalan parliament building over the weekend. The budget, negotiated largely in secret while the country reels from the impact of the pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes, cuts funding for healthcare, education, and human rights organizations while boosting money for infrastructure and — get this — adds more than $50,000 for lawmakers' meal stipends. The mostly peaceful protesters, along with the Catholic Church, are demanding at a minimum that President Alejandro Giammattei veto the budget, but some on the streets are calling for him and his whole government to step down entirely. Vice President Guillermo Castillo has offered to do just that, but only if the president jumps ship with him. Can Giammattei find a solution or is this a rerun of 2015, when mass protests unseated the government of then-President Otto Perez Molina? With its economy battered by the pandemic and natural disasters, Guatemala can ill afford a prolonged crisis.

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The 2020 US Election

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