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.

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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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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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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