Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir has described anti-government protesters as foreign agents, agitators and “bubbles”. Yet unrest may boil over as it continues to spread and protesters vow they won’t stop until the regime falls.
The movement against the government was boosted on June 29 with large protests in Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman as well as at least a dozen cities outside the capital for the “day of elbow-licking”.
This was a response to National Congress Party (NCP) vice-chairperson Nafie Ali Nafie’s claim that overthrowing the regime was as impossible as licking one’s own elbow.
Sermons during Friday prayers at many mosques condemned the regime. As crowds gathered at Wad Nubawi mosque in Omdurman, one tweeter said: “things are going crazy. The prayers didn't even start! Ppl r chanting their lungs out”.
The June 29 Sudan Tribune said “police forces supported by plain clothed security agents fired heavy teargas and rubber bullets on the protesters inside the mosque”. Protests continued for many hours, and residents kicked police out of nearby areas, declaring police-free zones.
In a suburb in Medani, Sudan’s second-largest city, police refused to attack protesters, forcing the regime to send its security agents to repress the demonstration. In many cities, protests continued into the night.
Throughout the day, the government blocked Facebook pages and student group websites, as well as the online versions of newspapers. Mobile phone coverage was also reportedly shut down for a period.
The demonstrations began almost two weeks earlier at the University of Khartoum on June 16, spreading to other parts of the capital, various university campuses, and cities and towns across Sudan, including Al Qadarif and Kassalla in the east, Al Obeid in North Kordofan, Kosti in White Nile State, Al Fashir in the west, Medani, and Atbara, an historic centre of working-class struggle.
As the days passed, more sections of the population added their support to the struggle, including lawyers and doctors.
Sudanese journalists and bloggers have been arrested and harassed, and several newspapers, including the Sudanese Communist Party’s paper Al Midan, have been suspended. Foreign journalists have also been arrested and Bloomberg journalist Salma Al Wardany was deported after reporting on the protests.
The opposition coalition, the National Consensus Forces (NCF), has supported the demonstrations and issued a united call to overthrow the regime. Police attacked a protest with tear gas outside the Khartoum headquarters of the Popular Congress Party on June 25, after a meeting of the NCF.
Youth groups trying to establish a new alliance met in Khartoum on June 18, but the meeting was swiftly shut down by security forces and all participants arrested.
The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of armed groups resisting Khartoum’s wars on the people of the west and south of Sudan, has welcomed the protests. It issued a June 24 statement declaring it would implement an immediate ceasefire following Bashir’s ousting.
The protests were sparked by the NCP government’s plan to lift fuel and food subsidies. But anger has been steadily building among Sudanese people throughout the 23 years of Bashir’s rule, and chants of “down with the regime” ring loudly throughout the demonstrations.
Not only has NCP rule been characterised by brutal repression, it has also destroyed Sudan’s economy through widespread corruption, the devotion of much of the country’s income to the armed forces’ genocidal military campaigns and the total neglect of key economic areas including agriculture.
This has led to rising poverty for Sudan’s people, which has worsened since the secession of South Sudan and Khartoum’s consequent loss of substantial oil income.
The growing suffering among the population meant this new round of student protests quickly won more general support.
Bashir has dismissed the rallies and insisted he remains widely popular. But the regime’s fear is revealed by the violent repression it has unleashed against the protesters, including the use of live ammunition and the torture of detained activists. A protester from Omdurman, Amir Bayoumi, died in hospital on June 26 after being tear gassed.
There are reports of increasing divisions within the NCP and a jostling for positions. However the people’s anger is directed at the regime as a whole, rather than focused on the president, so Bashir’s replacement by one of his cronies would be unlikely to end the uprising.
There ere has been much speculation in the international media about whether Sudan is set to join the Arab Spring.. But many Sudanese activists have been quick to point out that they have their own history of uprising to emulate, having successfully overthrown two dictators since Sudan’s independence.
As the regime marks the June 30 anniversary of the 1989 National Islamic Front coup that brought Bashir to power, many Sudanese are hoping to add a third.