“The situation in Egypt is different than the situation of Sudan,” Sudanese government spokesperson Rabie Atti insisted to reporters after January 30 anti-government protests.
“We don’t have one small group that controls everything. Wealth is distributed equally. We’ve given power to the states.”
Atti proves one similarity between Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt and that of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir: both make ludicrous public statements that show no understanding of reality or the consciousness of their populations.
Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup orchestrated by the National Islamic Front (which later became the current ruling National Congress Party). The regime has maintained a tight monopoly on power.
It has neither shared the country’s wealth nor allowed any genuine local control across Sudan’s diverse territory.
Since British colonial rule, economic development and political power have been concentrated in Khartoum.
The British rulers facilitated the rise of the Arabic-speaking, Muslim elite that assumed power after independence.
Maintaining an iron grip on the military, economy and government, Khartoum’s ruling elite has deprived the rest of the country — in particular the peoples of the south, west and east — of development and basic services.
The natural resources of these regions have been pillaged and the people subjected to Khartoum’s “Arab chauvinism”. This has forced Islamic law and the Arabic language on the various ethnic, religious and linguistic groups throughout Sudan.
The regime has responded to rebellions in marginalised areas with violent repression.
Even most people living in the privileged centre, while benefiting from greater infrastructure, resources and services, have long suffered under post-colonial dictators.
The NCP government has implemented anti-people International Monetary Fund and World Bank economic policies. The deeply corrupt regime syphons the country’s wealth into its own coffers and the huge military budget required to suppress dissent.
The government has used substantial oil income to buy itself support.
The regime has decimated public services. The education system — once considered Africa’s finest — is poorly resourced and the curriculum has been Islamicised.
Health and medical services are declining. Last year, public hospital doctors took strike action demanding better pay and working conditions after the government failed to pay their meagre wages for several months.
The NCP’s method of rule ensured a near unanimous vote in favour of separation from the north in south Sudan’s January 9-15 referendum.
The absurdity of Atti’s claims is also evident in the regime’s genocidal war in Darfur, in western Sudan. The war began in 2003 after locals began to resist their treatment by Khartoum. More than 300,000 people have died so far.
The NCP has been accused of intensifying its attacks in Darfur during the past two months, while attention has been focused on the southern referendum.
After the establishment of the Republic of South Sudan, expected in July, the north is set to lose control of about a third of its land and a quarter of its population. It will also lose most of its oil production.
Khartoum has promised to respect the referendum’s result. But it is seeking to resolve outstanding issues in its favour, such as division of oil revenue and border demarcation — including on which side of the border Abyei and its oil reserves will end up.
It is also seeking to extract concessions from US imperialism in return for accepting the referendum results.
The NCP hopes the US will remove Sudan from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terror, relieve Sudan’s debt (estimated at about US$38 billion) and provide aid and investment in the north.
Bashir has also put in an ambit claim to have his indictment in the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur overturned.
US President Barack Obama has suggested Sudan could be taken off the terrorism list by July.
Sudan’s foreign minister Ali Karti met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on January 26 to discuss future collaboration. Clinton congratulated the Sudanese government for its conduct during the referendum.
AFP said on January 26 that Karti thanked the US “for all they have done (throughout) the history of Sudan”.
Bashir has enjoyed a working relationship with the US since it sought his help in providing intelligence for Washington’s post 9/11 “war on terror”.
For its part, the Obama administration, like the previous Bush government, views Bashir’s regime as its preferred option in Khartoum.
The US is eager to advance US oil interests in Sudan. It hopes this will be possible after the separation of the south, where the bulk of the oil fields lie, and once sanctions are lifted on the north (which possesses the infrastructure for exporting the oil).
There is concern the situation in the north will worsen after separation. Bashir told a rally of supporters on December 19 that if the south seceded, he would create a new constitution based on Sharia law to consolidate Islam as the official religion and Arabic as the official language, Al Arabiya said.
Bashir also defended police caught on camera lashing a woman. He said: “If she is lashed according to Sharia law there is no investigation. Why are some people ashamed? This is Sharia.”
In Sudan, special police enforce a conservative and behaviour code on women. Punishments include lashings for alleged crimes such as “intent to commit adultery” or wearing trousers.
The NCP has rejected calls by northern opposition parties for constitutional reform to allow a new democratic government in the north.
On January 16, the National Consensus Forces (NCF) — a coalition of more than 20 opposition parties, including the Umma National Party, the Popular Congress Party (PCP) and the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) — declared it would call people onto the streets.
The call was in response to the government’s decisions to cut subsidies to fuel and increase sugar prices.
NCF spokesperson Farooq Abu Issa told media in Khartoum on January 16: “The Tunisians took to the street and died and they were able to free their country. That’s what we must also do.”
The regime said the opposition’s call violated the constitution. The January 16 Sudan Tribune said NCP deputy president Nafi Ali Nafi told the opposition that any attempt at “sedition” would be met with further crackdowns on freedoms.
The opposition parties are politically diverse. The Umma Party is a moderate Islamic organisation whose leader, Saddiq al Mahdi, has served two short stints as the country’s prime minister. The leader of the PCP, Hassan al Turabi, led the 1989 coup that brought the current regime to power.
He later fell out with Khartoum and has been arrested by the regime several times, most recently on January 17.
The SCP has been Sudan’s major left force since its formation in the 1940s. For most of its existence, it has been forced to operate underground.
However, greater democratic space opened up since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that allowed the party to start organising openly.
However, it still faces constant repression by the regime, which often arrests its activists and censors its newspaper, Al Midan.
Fathi el Fadl, from the SCP’s international department, said in a January 31 report to the British Communist Party’s website that the SCP had “raised the issue of toppling the regime through all legal means including civil uprising and political disobedience. Since last August its branches are working to mobilise the masses in the different sections of the population.”
He said: “A big struggle is being waged to win the battle for a new democratic leadership for the Sudanese trade union movement.”
On January 26, the African Centre for Justice and Peace reported a series of attacks on the opposition in the first month of 2011. These included arrests of activists for holding meetings and distributing material criticising the government’s price rises.
Newspapers continue to be at the mercy of government censors and security forces have prevented distribution of papers covering the protests.
Youth and students have bravely led the way onto the streets. Students protested in several cities over January 12-13 in response to price increases. They were met with police batons, tear gas and arrests.
The largest protests took place on January 30, involving thousands of students buoyed by events in Egypt. Facebook and other websites were used extensively to build support.
El Fadl said five radical and democratic youth organisations were behind the protests.
The actions were fiercely repressed and one student died from police beatings.
Dozens of protesters remain in detention and there have been further arrests. On February 2, nine staff from the SCP’s paper, Al Midan, were arrested. Detainees have suffered electric shock and other torture. Ill protesters have been prevented from taking their medicine. Families have maintained protest vigils outside internal security offices, and a major demonstration to demand the protesters’ release is being planned for February 15.
Twice since independence, dictatorships in Sudan were kicked out by popular mass movements (in 1965 and ’84).
Bashir may believe he can continue to use brute force to suppress opposition, but hatred of the current regime runs deep. There are clearly people — particularly young people — who are ready and willing to do something about it.