Things are moving at such an unbelieveable speed in North Africa and the Middle East, that it is difficult to keep up with events – let alone calmly think about them, dissect them, and try to extract a lesson. So it seems even more impossible to predict what will happen next, either in the countries where protests have already toppled governments (Tunisia), or look about to (Egypt), or in those vulnerable to future unrest.
On this last category we find Sudan. With the international attention focussed on the South of the country, the Al-Bashir regime now faces urban protests in Khartoum, and today, #SudanJan30 has been marked on the claendar by online activists as the day to go out on the streets, as Global Voices reports. Also, a website – Jan 30 Sudan – powered by Ushahidi has also been set up to follow the protests.
Just a few days ago, Hassan Al-Turabi, one of the country’s foremost opposition figures was arrested after calling for called a “popular revolution” if the Sudanese government did not reverse price increases, and pointing at similarities between Sudan and Tunisia.
Heavily armed police patrol Khartoum’s main streets beat and arrested students in central Khartoum [Reuters]
Following the call to protest, today a number of protesters went out on the streets and were met by the police:
Hundreds of armed riot police broke on Sunday up groups of young Sudanese demonstrating in central Khartoum and surrounded the entrances of four universities in the capital, firing teargas and beating students at three of them.
Police beat students with batons as they chanted anti-government slogans such as “we are ready to die for Sudan” and “revolution, revolution until victory”.
There were further protests in North Kordofan capital el-Obeid in Sudan’s west, where around 500 protesters engulfed the market before police used tear gas to disperse them, three witnesses said.
“They were shouting against the government and demanding change,” said witness Ahmed who declined to give his full name.
The question then is whether this – as in Tunisia and Egypt – could lead to more and more protests, and whether this could threaten Al-Bashir’s position. Hypothesising on this, Khalid Mubarak, thinks this is not likely:
Will the Sudan undergo a violent intifada similar to the Tunisian or Egyptian uprisings? That is highly unlikely, for the following reasons:
1- Uprisings happen as a result of suppression. The democratic transformation brought about by the Western brokered CPA has removed this factor. The group with the ability to revolt, the SPLM/A is an ally of Bashir and his NCP. Pagan Amum, the most provocative and anti-northern SPLM secretary general told a press conference in Khartoum last December that ”having a steady government in the north and south will contribute positively to ensure security and development.” He argued against change of government in the north.
2- Uprisings happen against docile leaders who ingratiate themselves to the West and put its interests above national dignity. Bashir was never groomed by the West which (as the Palestine Papers show) gives itself the right to choose leaders and depose others, even if they win elections!
3- The alternative leaders to Bashir have been tried before. They have no credibility and are too old to represent a long term choice. Sadiq alMahdi became prime Minister twice and failed twice. A decent and generous man (he invited me and our family to a reception at his residence when I returned to Khartoum) but an inadequate leader. Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, leader of the Communist Party – which refused to change its name after the collapse of the USSR – is a political ghost from the past, with negligible popular support. The Unionists are no longer a coherent party. They are held together by the Khatmiyya sect’s leader alone. Turabi is 100% discredited because of what he did in the early 1990s when he was the de facto ruler.
4- Before declaring austerity measures; Bashir’s government consulted trade Unions and declared a 40% rise in pay. Exemptions were made for fares in public transport.
5- Bashir leads a National Unity Government and has started negotiations to co-opt more parties.
Judging by this then, widespread protests in Sudan seem unlikely – although these days you can’t be sure of anything…