What the People in Sudan are Protesting
Three months of ongoing anti-government protests in Sudan and still there are no signs of embattled 75-year-old President Omar Al Bashir stepping down.
Triggered by a new round of austerity measures, the current wave of protests began last year on December 19 in the eastern city of Atbara with near daily protests quickly spreading to the capital Khartoum and other cities across the country. It is the most sustained challenge faced by President Al Bashir since he came to power in the 1989 coup d’état.
Thousands of disgruntled and frustrated demonstrators have taken took to the streets to vent their anger against the tripling of bread prices, devaluation of the local currency as well as cash and fuel shortages. They are calling for an end to Al Bashir’s three-decade rule, accusing him of mismanagement, corruption which has lead to the country’s crumbling economy, where overall inflation has risen to nearly 70 per cent and costs of some goods and basic commodities have more than doubled.
The main bloc leading the protests is the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA) – an umbrella group of independent professional unions, middle-class workers, women, students, youths and political opposition activists who have been echoing the popular slogans of the 2011 uprisings which toppled governments across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
However, protests in Sudan have received comparably little attention and limited coverage in international media, leaving protesters to resort to social media platforms to get their news trending globally.
Rights groups and activists say that police fired tear gas canisters, flares, and stun grenades to quash and disperse protests, which left scores of protesters injured and killed during riots and clashes with security forces.
Hundreds of protesters were also been arrested and jailed, including political activists, women leaders and opposition figures.
Schools and universities have been closed and curfews imposed in some regions. Newspapers have been censored or shut down. Internet access had been disrupted in an effort to block social media platforms and contain the protests, but blocks have since been lifted.
In an attempt to end months of ongoing demonstrations against his rule, President Al Bashir imposed a state of emergency, banning unlicensed public gatherings and authorizing the setup of emergency courts. He also disbanded the government, replacing state governors with military generals.
Al Bashir also stepped down as the head of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) postponing constitutional amendments that would have allowed him to seek another term in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
He acknowledged the economic hardships that triggered the protests, promising economic reforms and the release of political prisoners, but blamed this unrest on infiltrators and foreign agents instigating dissent and inciting havoc in the country.
Meanwhile, undeterred protesters continue to defy the state of emergency, mobilizing more demonstrations across the country, along with calls for strikes and civil disobedience, vowing to continue until President Al Bashir has been ousted and the downfall of the ruling NCP has been achieved.
A troubled economy
Since seizing power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, Sudan, under Al Bashir’s rule has endured famine, conflict and a civil war that led to the secession of South Sudan – home to large oil reserves – in 2011. Since losing three quarters of its oil output – its main source of foreign capital – the country has been in difficult economic situation.
Its economy has also been strained also by over 20 years of imposed US sanctions, stemming for accusations that the country has been sponsoring terrorism, having accused Al Bashir of committing war crimes against humanity.
In 2010, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Al Bashir for genocide and extermination in Darfur and issued an arrest warrant against him.
In 2017, Sudan was removed from the United States’ travel ban list. Economic sanctions were also lifted in recognition of the government’s efforts in countering terrorism, providing humanitarian aid in South Sudan, reducing migration towards Europe and for sending thousands of Sudanese soldiers to take part in the US-backed war in Yemen.
A broader context
Sudan has a long history of grassroots uprisings and successful revolutions against military regimes, most notably in 1964 and in 1985.
In 2011 and 2013, the country also witnessed sporadic bread riots after the scraping of subsidies.
However, unlike previous events, protests this time did not begin in the capital Khartoum. There are also a lot more people on the streets, including various political opposition factions and figures rallying around the protesters, who stress that their uprising is not just mere spontaneous riots against rising bread prices and a failing economy, but the root meaning is much deeper, blaming Al Bashir for the marginalization of their country and economic mismanagement.
Despite chanting slogans like “the people want the downfall of the regime” similar to ones from 2011 uprisings, activists and protesters say that this revolution is distinguished from similar events in 2011, where the Islamist forces were key drivers and mobilizers against authoritarian regimes. However, in Sudan, the Islamists are in power and the uprising is led by professional association members and union workers against their authoritative regime.
Few expect Sudan’s current uprising to force Al Bashir to concede power any time soon, as considering that the ongoing protests have yet to force any such reaction.
However, the context has become somewhat different – challenged by the ongoing unrest, Al Bashir’s regime has clearly been brought into question.
Analysts say that the downfall of Al Bashir is not an impending outcome. It all depends on maintaining pressure on the government through the ongoing resistance movements on the streets, and what seems a likely coup against President Al Bashir.