GENEVA — "What are you doing for New Year's Eve?" A simple question that comes up in December, but is enough to make some people break into a cold sweat.
"For years, New Year's Eve has given me a headache," says Sonia, a 26-year-old communications student at the University of Geneva. "You ask yourself whom you'll spend it with, what you'll do, whether you'll go out or not, and so on. In the end, you always have fun, but before the evening actually comes, it's a pain."
It's true that it's not always easy to choose the kind of New Year's Eve you want. It's like that episode in the French mini-series Bref, where the protagonist, who can't make up his mind, goes from party to party on New Year's Eve. In the end, at midnight, he "celebrates' it with a homeless man in the métro.
"There are so many possibilities that it's difficult to choose one party. That's part of the game: You can always find something better," says Martine Segalen, a French ethnologist.
To party at any cost is a tiring obsession. Chantal, a 24-year-old literature student at the University of Geneva, is content these days with not planning anything. "As a teenager, I always felt I was forcing myself to make New Year's Eve the best party of the year. There's the idea that if you don't go out on that particular night, you're a loser. Now I find it overrated," she laughs. "I realized that my best New Year's Eve was a raclette dinner with a friend where we ended up watching SpongeBob SquarePants. We went to sleep at quarter past midnight!"
An omen for the coming year
But why such a fuss over one party? "It's one of the days when everybody's expected to be celebrating. There's an expectation, almost an obligation, to be harmonious, happy," explains Christian Staerklé, an associate professor of social psychology at the University of Lausanne.
And if New Year's Eve does not live up to expectations, the consequences seem more serious than if just any old party flops. "There's this popular belief that it's an omen for the coming year," says the professor. "If the party was bad, that could be a negative sign for the future."
Because New Year's Eve, also known as Saint Sylvester's Day, is packed with symbols: good resolutions, 12 strikes at midnight, fireworks. "For many people, it's a rite of passage, and they invest a lot of hope in the new year," says Staerklé.
But Segalen tries to put it into perspective. "The obligation to celebrate weighs mainly on the young. There are also thousands of people who decide to simply stay home in front of their TVs."
Why not improvise?
So, how to celebrate this Dec. 31 without stress? Sonia found the solution two years ago: "I spend the evening with my boyfriend and his friends. Even if I miss my friends, I'm with him. And not having to organize anything and letting myself be led allows me to have fewer expectations and therefore less pressure."
Chantal prefers to improvise: "I don't feel like letting the evening take up any space in my head. I might go somewhere at the last minute. I'd like to feel completely free to celebrate, not to celebrate, or maybe even to give my time to others, as a volunteer, for example," she says.
But one thing for sure is that Chantal has learned with the years to lower her expectations: "The best party of my life was never a New Year's Eve party, that's for sure!"
The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.
This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.
In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.
The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.
A popular uprising may be inevitable
The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?
Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.
The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.
But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.
Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.
For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.
The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.
Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.
A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.
In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.
Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.
File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020
Generals in suits
Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.
For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.
This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.
Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.
Demands of the revolution
The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.
First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.
Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.
The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.
Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.
Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.
The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.
Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.
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