Sunday June 23, 2024

Protests in Sudan

By Khalid Bhatti
December 28, 2018

The International Criminal Court issued two arrest warrants in 2009 and 2010, respectively, against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of war crimes, genocide and other grave human rights abuses allegedly committed in the country’s western region.

Many years later, his future still hangs in the balance. The regime of the Sudanese strongman is facing yet another protest movement. The current wave of protests erupted after the government hiked the price of bread from one Sudanese pound (SDG) to three SDG, exacerbating grievances over price hikes, shortages of basic commodities, and a cash crisis. Inflation is running at close to 70 percent and the Sudanese pound has plunged in value. Meanwhile, bread and fuel shortages have become routine in many cities, including Khartoum.

Protesters are now demanding regime-change. They are taking to the streets and chanting slogans about how freedom, peace, justice and revolution are the people’s choice.

According to Amnesty International, the brutal use of force by the state has left 37 protesters dead, scores injured and dozens arrested. The killings were mainly a result of the security forces firing live bullets at protesters. Young people between the ages of 16 and 23 have mostly been killed.

The bad news for the authoritarian regime is that doctors and paramedics are already on an indefinite strike. Independent unions, professional associations and other groups observed strikes and work stoppages across the country this week. In addition, opposition parties along with independent trade unions and workers groups are planning to organise a general strike next week. The intervention of workers in the protest movement and a series of strikes and work stoppages could put more pressure on the regime.

Moreover, student protests have prompted authorities to suspend classes in schools and universities in at least eight cities, including Khartoum, and to impose a state of emergency and curfew in some parts of the country. The mass mobilisation of students across the country can transform the movement. That’s why the government is trying everything to prevent this at all costs.

The regime is targeting liberal and left-wing activists, with members of the Sudanese Communist Party the prime targets as the regime has accused left-wing forces of destablising the state.

So far, a few thousand people have participated in protests in various cities. But the continuation of these protests for nearly a week, despite the use of force by the security forces, suggests that the level of popular discontent over Omar al-Bashir’s rule is dangerously high.

He crushed two protest movements in 2011 and 2013. In 2013, thousands of people protested against the rising costs of fuel and cooking gas. The government used force to crack down on the demonstrations. Hundreds of protesters were arrested and, according to rights groups, more than 200 people were killed. In 2016, life came to a standstill on the streets of Khartoum when people took part in several days of civil disobedience, with many staying home from work, universities and schools. The strike was a response to a dramatic increase in the prices of medicine, fuel and electricity.

Omar al-Bashir belongs to the powerful military establishment, which has dominated the country in the six decades since it gained independence from Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1956. The Sudanese president was an army brigadier-general when he joined forces with extremist elements to seize power in a 1989 military coup that toppled a democratically-elected government.

He relies mainly on the military establishment to maintain a firm grip on power, even though he enjoys support among some sections of the population. For now, the military seems to have thrown its weight behind al-Bashir’s regime. But if these protests continue and spread to other parts of the country, the military and security establishment might withdraw its support.

The regime seems to be under pressure as it has failed to quell the protests over the last six days. This is unusual as Sudan’s police and security apparatus can easily crush such demonstrations in no time.

A mass movement could potentially topple al-Bashir. The Sudanese president has used religious, ethnic, regional and tribal divisions and conflicts in Sudan to carry out a ‘divide and rule’ policy. A mass movement of the working classes can cut across these divisions and create unity among the people.

Sudan has a history of military coups, civil wars, armed conflicts and popular uprisings since it gained independence. In 1964, a mass movement of students and workers forced the country’s first military dictatorship out of power.

It seems that dissatisfaction has grown across Sudan over economic hardships, including soaring inflation and limits on bank withdrawals. Some have even describing the situation as a “ticking time bomb”.

The economic crisis has worsened despite the fact that an economic embargo on the country was lifted by the US in October 2017. When South Sudan seceded and became a separate country in 2011, Sudan also lost three-quarters of its oil reserves.

The Sudanese people have been fighting for a better quality of life for decades. Despite facing torture, brutality and repression for years, they haven’t given up hope and continue to struggle under extremely difficult circumstances.

The writer is a freelance journalist.