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

​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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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