​What We're Watching: Merkel's emergency, South Sudan's hopes, and the Mecca Girls

Merkel's CDU in turmoil– Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU Party will hold a special session on April 25 to pick her successor after a series of crises that threaten to undermine her coalition government. The need to consolidate the party took on renewed urgency Sunday after the CDU slipped to third place with just 11 percent of the vote in local Hamburg elections. Merkel, chancellor for almost 15 years, said she will not run after her term ends in October 2021, but the woman seen as her obvious successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) recently quit as party boss, throwing CDU into further turmoil. The surprising outcome in Hamburg appeared to be a rebuke to the CDU after one of its local branches broke with post-World War Two convention in voting with the far-right AfD party to install a state official. Merkel wants to see out her term, but several candidates are reportedly jockeying to replace her immediately. We're watching to see how Merkel manages the political storm.


South Sudan's unity government – After a decade of bloody civil war and failed attempts at reconciliation, rivals in South Sudan have finally formed a unity government. International pressure had long mounted on South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar to reach a peace deal that would end a conflict that's killed at least 400,000 and displaced some 1.4 million people. Until now, both sides had refused to make concessions on two sticking points: territorial borders and security concerns in Juba, the capital. Machar has now been sworn in as the president's deputy, and the two sides will try to raise money to boost the famine-stricken economy. But this isn't their first attempt at a détente. Kiir and Machar started as political partners in 2011 after South Sudan gained independence from the north. But ensuing rivalry sparked a war characterized by ethnic violence that drew in tribal groups from around the country. Many of the armed groups operating in the region haven't signed on to the new deal, which could stir trouble for the nascent peace process.

Mecca Girls - Saudi authorities have called for the arrest of a Saudi female rapper following the release of a music video for her song Mecca Girl. The performer, who calls herself Asayel Slay, has given particular offense to some with the lyric "the Mecca girl is sugar candy." The governor of Mecca, home to Islam's holiest site, tweeted that the lyric and entire performance "insults the customs of Mecca." A supporter of the performance tweeted in response that "It's the only rap song that doesn't contain a single obscenity, insult, pornographic scene, nudity, hashish or smoking and the rapper is even wearing the hijab." Another supporter of the video points to the contradiction in Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's "modernization" drive: "This is so typical of the Saudi government to do – bring western influencers to artwash the regime but attack real Saudi women who try to artistically express their cultural identities."

Pablo's hungry hippos – Descendants of the pet hippos brought to Colombia by deceased drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s are making news again this week. The original hippos, freed following Escobar's death in 1993, were considered too large and expensive to transport elsewhere. Their offspring are again wandering the countryside, provoking sharp reactions from local residents. Some adore the hippos. Others fear that their growing number will exponentially increase their destructive potential. A plan to sterilize some of the hippos will do little to manage a population that's expected to quadruple over the next decade. This region may one day find itself with literally thousands of hungry, hungry hippos.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

More Show less

Governments of the developed world are finally responding with due sense of urgency, individually in 3 different ways.

1st, stand health care systems up so they won't get overwhelmed (late responses). The private & public sector together, building additional ICU beds, supply capacity and production of medical equipment and surge medical personnel in the US, Canada, across Europe & the UK. Unclear if we avoid a Northern Italy scenario. A couple days ago, Dr. Fauci from the NIH said he was hopeful. Epidemiologists and critical care doctors don't feel comfortable. Not in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans. In Europe, particularly London, Madrid, Catalonia, Barcelona, might be significantly short.

More Show less

The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

More Show less

In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

More Show less