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What We’re Watching: Sudan softens laws, Duda wins by a whisker in Poland, protests erupt in Russia's Far East

What We’re Watching: Sudan softens laws, Duda wins by a whisker in Poland, protests erupt in Russia's Far East

Sudan legalizes booze (for some): Three decades after Sudan's strongman president Omar al-Bashir introduced draconian measures mandating the death penalty for those who "abandon" Islam, the country's new transitional government has introduced sweeping reforms to its criminal law. The changes allow non-Muslim Sudanese to consume alcohol and bans female genital mutilation. Sudan's transitional government, a joint civilian-military body which took office in August 2019 after popular protests pushed al-Bashir out of power, says that the reforms aim to counter the long-running persecution of black and Christian communities. But is there another motive at play? As Sudan's economy teeters on the brink of collapse, its government wants to be removed from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List, which would open it up to international investment. The US says it's open to this, but only if it sees meaningful progress on human rights and democracy — and efforts to counter financing of terrorist regimes in the region. Sudan's nascent transitional government might be hoping that these changes help accelerate its removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, which currently makes it ineligible for financing from the IMF and World Bank.


Poland's deep divisions and coming clashes: President Andrezj Duda eked out a narrow victory in the runoff of Poland's presidential election on Sunday. The result, the closest electoral result since the end of communism in 1989, highlights the political divide in the country, with mostly older and rural voters turning out in support of Duda's extreme social conservative views, while the younger, urban electorate supported opposition candidate Rafal Trzaskowki, the socially liberal mayor of Warsaw. The reelection of Duda, an ally of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, paves the way for the PiS to approve new laws — including on control of the judiciary and media censorship — that are expected to set Poland on a collision course with the European Union's rules on democratic institutions and the separation of powers. We're watching to see what Brussels does, but also whether there is further domestic pushback against PiS in a country that is increasingly polarized.

A protest in Russia's Far East: Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the Far Eastern Russian region of Khabarovsk in a rare mass protest triggered by the arrest of governor Sergey Furgal, who is accused of ordering the murder of several businessmen in the early 2000s. Furgal is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia led by the eccentric ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, which is normally loyal to the ruling United Russia party of President Vladimir Putin. However, two years ago Furgal took office by defeating the United Russia candidate in a landslide, and has since remained popular. The Kremlin wasn't happy about it, and protesters — many of whom were chanting anti-Putin slogans — believe that Furgan's arrest is politically motivated payback from the Kremlin. We are watching to see if the protests, which police did not stop, continue and more broadly whether this is a bellwether of growing dissatisfaction with Putin, whose approval ratings have recently touched their lowest mark since he came to power in 2000.

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On Wednesday, Joe Biden will become president because eighty-one million Americans, the highest tally in US history, voted to change course after four years of Donald Trump's leadership. Like all presidents, Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, take office with grand ambitions and high expectations, but rarely has a new administration taken power amid so much domestic upheaval and global uncertainty. And while Biden has pledged repeatedly to restore American "unity" across party lines — at a time of immense suffering, real achievements will matter a lot more than winged words.

Biden has a lot on his agenda, but within his first 100 days as president there are three key issues that we'll be watching closely for clues to how effectively he's able to advance their plans.

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It wasn't pretty, but we made it to Inauguration Day. These last four years have taught the US a lot about itself — so what have we learned?

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and it is the last full day of the Trump administration. Extraordinary four years, unprecedented in so many ways. I guess the most important feature for me is how much more divided the United States is, the world is, as coming out of the Trump administration than it was coming in. Not new. We were in a GZERO world, as I called it well before Trump was elected president. The social contract was seen as fundamentally problematic. Many Americans believed their system was rigged, didn't want to play the kind of international leadership role that the United States had heretofore, but all of those things accelerated under Trump.

So perhaps the most important question to be answered is, once Trump is gone, how much of that persists? It is certainly true that a President Biden is much more oriented towards trying to bring the United States back into existing multilateral architecture, whether that be the Paris Climate Accord, or more normalized immigration discussions with the Mexicans, the World Health Organization, the Iranian Nuclear Deal, some of which will be easy to do, like Paris, some of which will be very challenging, like Iran. But nonetheless, all sounds like business as usual.

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Tunisians demand change: Marking ten years since Tunisians sparked the Arab Spring by taking to the streets to demand the ouster of longtime autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, a fresh generation is now protesting the country's dire economic and social crisis. Security forces responded with a heavy hand, using tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters who hurled gas bombs, and over 600 demonstrators were arrested. As Tunisia descends further into economic ruin, with youth unemployment hovering at 30 percent, protesters demand a new election (they have not been placated by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's recent attempt at a government reshuffle.) Demonstrators say that the political class has failed to follow through on pledges of reform made during the 2011 revolution: since then, living standards for most Tunisians have plummeted while poverty has soared. While Tunisia is the only state involved in the Arab Spring that became a democracy, the political elite has largely failed to root out corruption and inequality. Last year, the government responded to similar protests by creating more public sector jobs, but options are limited now due to pandemic-fueled economic stagnation.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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