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Worldcrunch Today, Jan. 4: Assange Stays, Iran's Uranium, Where's Jack?

Pupils in Kenya are heading back to schools, which are reopening on Jan. 4 after a nine-month long closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pupils in Kenya are heading back to schools, which are reopening on Jan. 4 after a nine-month long closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Welcome to Monday, where the UK blocks Assange's extradition, vaccinations are moving too slowly (almost) everywhere and the Asian business world is asking: Where's Jack? We also follow Le Monde to Casablanca where Moroccans are rethinking what it means to be a man.

SPOTLIGHT: DEMOCRACY HAS MORE GRIT THAN YOU MIGHT THINK

There are more and more elected leaders these days willing to ride roughshod over the rules of democracy. But that hardly means the system's doomed writes Pedro Viveros in Colombian daily El Espectador.

In Colombia and elsewhere, there are voices declaring that democracy is doomed. They point to the proliferation of erratic leaders and budding dictators, people like Trump, Maduro, Putin, Duterte in the Philippines, or Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, but without properly analyzing things in any of those countries.

Instead they argue that the presence of such leaders shows how weak the citizens of those nations are. And their conclusion is that the 21st century is destined to suffer another epidemic: a plague of autocrats.

The ideological references of the past century, namely fascism, Nazism and communism and their "charismatic" leaders, have led some to assume that history will repeat itself. They argue that the present crop of pestilential challenges will inevitably take us back to the foul prescriptions that produced the world wars. And here we thought things couldn't get any worse!

The deplorable events that left society fractured between three worlds — the Western and Eastern worlds, and we in the developing world — were based on extremist conceptions of nationalism that made jingoism a defensive response to anything external. Xenophobia became a rhetorical instrument amid unprecedented socio-economic crises. Voting, democracy's simple tool, was no longer enough to hold back the hordes of supporters running after the paradise promised by a Hitler, Mussolini or Lenin.

Today, too, the vote might not be enough to contain the pandemic of demagoguery. Fortunately, the many crises humanity has faced over the past century have raised the immunity of the democratic body. Its boosted defenses now include complementary mechanisms like the separation of powers, charters, multilateralism, independent bodies and human rights courts, the World Court at The Hague and the globalization of problems, but also solidarity, solutions, knowledge and education.

Voting has become the beginning and the end of a system designed to call out, criticize and control its own outrages. Donald Trump's desire to remain in the White House is, well, just that, a desire. And fortunately, the laws of the United States, forged to prevent entrenchment in power, will prevent his doing so — just as Colombia's Constitutional Court prevented former president Álvaro Uribe from seeking a third, unconstitutional term.

Likewise, multilateral coordination has guided scientific action against the coronavirus, creating a "live-and-direct" global response that has prevented the pandemic's already tragic impact from taking an even higher toll.

Democracies are behind the denunciations of corruption and of unnecessary wars. They have helped reduce poverty worldwide and forge sustainable development goals set out in the UN, itself a democratic consequence of the threats of intolerant elements mentioned above. All these efforts and tools will be crucial not only for keeping democracy alive, but also for protecting those of us who vote in this most beguiling and enduring of government systems.

— Pedro Viveros / El Espectador



THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID-19 latest: Delays in vaccination programs hit Germany, France, the U.S. and other countries, with high infection rates continuing around the world as COVID-19 promises to weigh on the world for months to come. An 82-year-old British diabetes patient became the first person to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Israel sets the pace for rapid vaccinations.

• UK blocks Assange extradition: A London court blocks extradition to the U.S. of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange because of concerns over Assange's mental health. The 49-year-old is wanted over the publication of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011.

• Iran uranium: Iran has resumed enriching uranium to 20% purity at an underground nuclear facility, the government has announced, breaching the 2015 nuclear pact with world powers.

• Trump's high stakes: All 10 living former U.S. defense secretaries sign a letter warning the military to not intervene on behalf of President Trump's continuing effort to overturn the Nov. 3 election he lost. A recording emerged of Trump pressuring a top Georgia election official to overturn his loss in that state, as a core group of Republican legislators say they'll try to undermine the official electoral college vote in Congress on Wednesday.

• Markets ring in 2021 in style: Asian and European stock markets start off the year with record highs over optimism about vaccines.

• Niger massacre: Terrorist attacks over the weekend have killed at least 100 people in two villages in western Niger, just after first-round presidential election results were announced.

• Where is Jack? Chinese billionaire and Alibaba founder Jack Ma has made no public appearances in more than two months, raising concerns about his whereabouts following Beijing's recent crackdown on his business activities.



"This pandemic is only over when it's over for everyone," writes Berlin-based daily Die Tageszeitung on its Monday front page, pointing at the unfairness of the vaccine distribution across Europe.


IN PATRIARCHAL MOROCCO, A PUSH FOR "POSITIVE MASCULINITY"

Sufiane Hennani, a 28-year-old doctoral student in Casablanca, is using a series of podcasts dedicated to the debate on gender relations to help free his countrymen from one-size-fits-all notions about how men can and should behave, reports Ghalia Kadiri in French daily Le Monde.

Although violence against women is regularly denounced in the kingdom, the role of men is rarely questioned. That's where Hennani's show, called Machi Rojola, comes in. Developed during the coronavirus lockdown period — at a time, specifically, when associations have observed an upsurge in domestic violence — the podcasts directly target sexual assault, harassment and male domination. The idea, its creator explains, "is to deconstruct the discourse of men, to make them responsible, in order to initiate change in our society."

Each program, illustrated by the feminist artist Zainab Fasiki, invites intellectuals, artists and activists to reconsider the notion of masculinity. "In Morocco, we think of man as if there was only one model: the hegemonic dominant male. Anyone else is considered not "man enough,"" Hennani says. "In Machi Rojola, we finally admit that masculinity is plural, that it's complex."

The first episode, released on Dec. 2, tackles "toxic masculinities," and the notion of "being a man," which sometimes leads to violence. "Since we were children, we have been taught models of masculinity that have caused us a lot of harm," author and journalist Hicham Houdaïfa says. "We had to show that we were boys. Sometimes you become violent because you have to be." It is this notion that Sufiane Hennani wants to challenge.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com here.


275,800

According to South Korea's interior ministry, the country has registered more deaths than births for the first time ever in 2020, with 275,800 babies born this year against 307,764 fatalities — a worrying sign in a country which already has the world's lowest birth rate.


So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes.

The Washington Post has published details of a phone call between Donald Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which the U.S. president pressures the top election official to "find" votes to overturn the results of his Nov. 3 loss to Joe Biden.

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LE MONDE
This leading French daily newspaper Le Monde ("The World") was founded in December 1944 in the aftermath of World War II. Today, it is distributed in 120 countries. In late 2010, a trio formed by Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse took a controlling 64.5% stake in the newspaper.
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EL ESPECTADOR
The oldest newspaper in Colombia, El Espectador was founded in 1887. The national daily newspaper has historically taken a firm stance against drug trafficking and in defense of freedom of the press. In 1986, the director of El Espectador was assassinated by gunmen hired by Pablo Escobar. The majority share-holder of the paper is Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a Colombian businessman named by Forbes magazine as one of the wealthiest men in the world in 2011.
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REUTERS
Reuters is an international news agency headquartered in London, UK. It was founded in 1851 and is now a division of Thomson Reuters. It transmits news in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Urdu, and Chinese.
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BLOOMBERG NEWS
Founded by Michael Bloomberg in 1990, Bloomberg News is an international news agency based in New York. Coverage is focused but not limited to business and economic news.
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DIE TAGESZEITUNG
Founded in 1978 in Berlin, Die Tageszeitung, also known as "TAZ," is a left-leaning newspaper famous for its tongue-in-cheek headlines.
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BBC
The BBC is the British public service broadcaster, and the world's oldest national broadcasting organization. It broadcasts in up to 28 different languages.
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Geopolitics

Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

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.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

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.

Power sharing

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

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

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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David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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