Sudan's imminent uprising
Economic hardship is joining corruption, war and crackdowns among the grievances of Sudan's citizens against the ruling regime as political forces unite for change, writes Asmaa El-Husseini
For several days students and citizens took to the streets in Khartoum to protest hikes in food prices and the high cost of living, as well as the withdrawal of fuel subsidies that the Khartoum government is expected to announce soon after it was approved by the ruling National Congress Party during a Shura Council meeting. This has added new urgency to the problems that are sweeping across Sudan, and compounds Sudan's economic problems after it lost three quarters of its revenues when the South seceded one year ago. Police forces used truncheons and tear gas to push back students who began their march at Khartoum University, chanting against the high cost of living while others shouted: "The people demand the fall of the regime."
After excessive force was used to dispel demonstrators, the police evacuated the university campus and journalists reported that armed groups using improvised weapons emerged on the scene. Meanwhile, security agencies banned the publication of three newspapers and took firm security measures against the media and media personalities. The demonstrations come at a time when inflation rates have reached unprecedented highs, which government sources say aim at closing a gap of $2.4 billion, after inflation reached 28.5 per cent in April and 30.4 per cent in May.
The average Sudanese citizen who ignored calls by the opposition to come out in mass protests against government policies that caused the secession of the South and wars in several other areas is now coming out en masse to protest a dire economic crisis this is making life unbearably difficult, whether it's the price of a loaf of bread, the cost of transportation or fulfilling basic needs.
Average citizens do not feel they benefited from oil revenues in the past and they are now paying a high price, and that the government is not applying austerity policies on itself and its officials while making that demand on the citizenry. Spending on security and politics consumes a large part of the budget and is on the rise because of open-ended wars in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as tensions with South Sudan. Meanwhile, the government deals with the volatile political situation through appeasement and inflating the government structure.
In an attempt to ease demonstrations, which were the largest in Khartoum, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir told parliament that his government would adopt austerity measures and other economic actions like nothing Sudan has seen in 20 years. Bashir decided to reform the government structure by cutting down more than 100 government positions at the presidency and legislative bodies, ministries, ministers, state ministers, as well as consultants to the presidency and cabinet. The restructuring also slashes by half executive and legislative posts in states across the country.
Bashir said he would work on reducing the benefits of appointees in the central and branch governments, including salaries and bonuses, and eliminating the salaries and benefits of local legislative representatives, as well as reducing and rationing public spending and reviewing budgets and spending priorities. Along with the gradual withdrawal of fuel subsidies, Bashir decided to stop the construction of any new government buildings, regulating the procurement and contracting process for government purchases, as well as improving regulation of tariff exemptions, while continuing the liquidation and privatisation of state-owned companies. At the same time, all state institutions will be subjected to a national audit. He directed the Ministry of Justice to quickly rule on crimes relating to public funds and warned against smuggling commodities to South Sudan.
Bashir attributed the deterioration in the economy to events in Heglig and what he described as a continued attack on the country's peripheries, saying that this added an extra burden that compounded the problem and weakened the country's overall economy. Bashir promised that the government would buffer the effects of high fuel prices for citizens through new tax exemptions on imports of basic foods such as wheat, flour and sugar.
Although Bashir's party always viewed the opposition as weak and challenged them to mobilise the people on the street, it may feel differently now. The opposition alliance called on the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Mohamed Othman Al-Mirghani to withdraw from the government so that his party can participate in "the honour of toppling the regime". A DUP spokesman said that withdrawing is "a national duty", while the chairman of the General Body for the Forces of National Consensus, Farouk Abu Eissa, urged the DUP to withdraw "today, not tomorrow" from the coalition government.
The alliance also made a direct call to Al-Mirghani to "effectively participate, before the deluge, in liberating the country and achieving national sovereignty." Eissa said: "The unionist movement must be part of the honour of toppling the regime. We have high hopes that the DUP, which has always played a honourable role in politics, will respond quickly to our call, in light of the NCP's floundering policies̉ê¦ that emerged at the party's last Shura Council meeting."
Meanwhile, the Sudan Revolutionary Front reiterated its call to all the people of Sudan to take to the streets to demand the removal of the regime and achieve peace, stability, development, security and prosperity in the country. It also urged support for demonstrations, strikes and civil disobedience to pressure the regime to stop existing wars and suffering, and begin change and to construct a country of co-citizenship. The movement Change Now stated that the past few days were the bloodiest in Sudan's political history as demonstrations are confronted by unprecedented violence by anti-riot police and civilian militias that are believed to be affiliated to security and national intelligence agencies. The movement called for an immediate end to violence against protesters who are exercising their legitimate right of freedom of expression in support of peaceful change. NGOs and various media urged that all crimes against the people of Sudan should be documented.
The Sudan Congress Party believes that the government will continue to pursue policies that will fragment Sudan and humiliate its people. The South seceded and the government claimed this was a victory and said that once Sudan is rid of the burden of the South it would be safe, stable and prosperous. The opposite happened. War broke out once again and killed hundreds of innocent people while everyday life became impossible for many. The Sudan Congress Party called on the armed forces and police to side with the people and protect them from the regime's militias.
Al-Tayeb Zein Al-Abideen, a Sudanese thinker, believes that unequal distribution of national wealth is the main reason behind the revolts against the government on the periphery in the South, Darfur, Blue Niles, South Kordofan and East Sudan. Zein Al-Abideen listed several areas that should be reformed to improve the tattered economy, including combating corruption that has spread to all government bodies and is not addressed even when there is clear evidence; excessive political spending; sagging legislative and executive institutions; not privatising public sector companies despite the declared policy, which is a source of corruption and mismanagement; the absence of transparency in government financial transactions; and unequal wages in the civil services.
"The government must correctly read some indicators reported by its loyalist members from the Islamic movement and the ruling party before it's too late," Zein Al-Abideen said. "Testimonials of protest and discontent from key members of the Islamic movement have been published, and parliament is even more critical of the government than the opposition."
Meanwhile, officials are resigning their posts in cabinet ministries and ministers unveiling the corruption of their predecessors. And there is hardly anyone left among the public who will defend the government's policies.
Bashir's declarations and decisions have yet to be applied to senior officials. Also pending is genuine conciliation that guarantees a transition to democracy and avoidance of political and military conflict across Sudan.
Without implementation, no one can guarantee that discontent will not spread among citizens and peak like in other Arab countries. Economic hardships are linked to many political, social and cultural problems across Sudan and are further aggravated by the government's security crackdown at a time when all active forces in Sudan are now seeking genuine change.