Tuesday, October 26 2021

Dive In


I want to assassinate King Abdullah. I get a poison ring from Russia. It's enough for me just to shake hand with him and he will be done.

That’s what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman allegedly told a cousin in 2014—revealing his aim to kill his uncle King Abdullah, who was Saudi Arabia’s ruler at the time. This bizarre assassination plot was revealed by a former senior Saudi intelligence official—who claims to have video evidence of the conversation. Why this matters: bin Salman has already developed a nasty reputation—having ordered the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Big Story

The sad story of Sudan

The TLDR: The African country’s brief flirtation with freedom ended once again in a military coup—two years after popular protests ousted the previous dictator. In this sad development lies a lesson about democracy for all of us.


First, a super-quick Sudan 101

The basic deets: The majority of the 39.5 million strong population is Muslim, and they speak Arabic. Sudan is located next door to Egypt—right here:


No, not South Sudan: Gaining its independence in 1956, the nation was once the largest in Africa—until 2011, when it split into two. South Sudan is dominated by mainly Christian and Animist residents—and had been struggling for freedom from the Arab Muslim north.


You may remember: Sudan for two reasons.


  • Darfur. The western part of Sudan made global headlines when its non-Arab residents rebelled against then President Omar al-Bashir. He sent in ruthless Arab militias—infamously known as the Janjaweed—who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people. Bashir has since been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
  • Osama bin Laden. Bashir was also a fervent Muslim and sought to establish an Islamic state. In the 1990s, jihadists came flooding into Sudan—including bin Laden who invested in construction projects, and had a personal relationship with Bashir. In 1993, the US blacklisted Sudan as an international sponsor of terrorism.


The latest coup, explained

First: You need to know this is the 35th coup attempt in Sudan since it achieved freedom in 1956! The most recent was a plot that failed in September. Only five of these have been successful. Strung together on a timeline, it looks like this:


The great uprising: In 2019, tens of thousands of Sudanese took to the streets in popular protests against Bashir—chanting ‘just fall, that’s all’. The crackdown was brutal and 87 were killed in one confrontation when soldiers opened fire. But in the end, the military stepped in and kicked out Bashir—ending his 30-year rule. 


The compromise: At the time, it seemed as though Sudan was going through its version of the Arab Spring—a mass movement that may finally usher in democracy. The military entered into a power-sharing arrangement: A Sovereign Council with military and civilian leaders was created to oversee the eventual transition to full democracy. Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok was appointed as its leader. The plan: to hold elections next year.


The collapse: But within six months of taking power, the pandemic struck, and Sudan plunged into economic recession. Inflation skyrocketed to more than 200%—triggering food riots. Through it all, Hamdok was mostly ineffective and out of sight—unable to devise an effective economic strategy or pressure the military to make significant concessions. But he managed to survive an assasination attempt and an attempted coup in September.


The coup: Yesterday, the military stepped in once again to seize power. Led by General Abdel Fattah Burhan, security forces dissolved the Sovereign Council—and put prominent civilian leaders under house arrest, including Hamdok. Burhan claims he was forced to act due to infighting between politicians—forcing him to “rectify the revolution's course.” And this: “What the country is going through now is a real threat and danger to the dreams of the youth and the hopes of the nation.” He insists that the military will stick to the plan of holding elections next year.


Protests, again: People are flooding the streets again in anger. Seven have been killed, and 140 injured in clashes with soldiers. Political parties are urging citizens to join the demonstrations. For now, the protesters seem determined not to allow Burhan to get away with a coup. See the scenes on the streets here.  


Point to note: Many experts say that the military has misjudged the enormity of the backlash. Its other big problem: All key countries and organisations like the US, Arab League and African Union have condemned the coup—and many have already suspended foreign aid. This will pose a significant problem for Burhan as he tries to stabilise his rule.


The lesson in democracy

Headlines that matter

Say hello to pricey IPL ‘babies’

Lucknow and Ahmedabad now have Indian Premier League teams of their own—and together they cost an eye-popping Rs 127.15 billion (12,715 crore). That’s how much the RP Sanjeev Goenka Group (RPSG) and Singapore-based private equity firm Irelia paid for them. That’s 3X the base price set when bids were invited. For comparison: The most valuable IPL team Rajasthan Royals is currently valued at Rs 18.5 billion (1,850 crore). Mint has more on why the big buy makes good business sense.


Greenhouse gas levels are spirallin

A new UN report shows that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is at record levels—hitting 413.2 parts per million. This spike is way higher than the average rate of increase in the past decade. FYI: Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane etc trap heat and contribute significantly to global warming. (Reuters


Tata’s big ecommerce plan

Tata Sons plan to invest $2 billion to build a super-app called TataNeu—which “is designed as a single-point digital doorway to the Tata group’s various consumer offerings, including healthcare, food and grocery, financial services, fashion and lifestyle, electronics, over-the-top services, education and bill payments.” It will roll out next year. (Mint)


A beagle testing horror

In a rare moment of cross-party unity, Democrats and Republicans have taken on government funding for projects that use beagles to test experimental drugs. The main target in the row: Covid guru Dr Anthony Fauci who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Why everyone is furious: 44 beagle puppies were deliberately infected with parasites:


“Our investigators show that Fauci’s NIH division shipped part of a $375,800 grant to a lab in Tunisia to drug beagles and lock their heads in mesh cages filled with hungry sand flies so that the insects could eat them alive. They also locked beagles alone in cages in the desert overnight for nine consecutive nights to use them as bait to attract infectious sand flies.”

Reminder: Beagles have been used to test pesticides in India. We have laws banning animal testing for cosmetics but not drugs and other products. 


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • The prestigious Architectural Photography Awards


A list of intriguing things 

  • The annual Beard Olympics
  • A visual experiment that combines water, salt and music
  • An Annabelle-like contest for the creepiest historical doll
  • Which animals will survive climate change?

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