Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1167, (3 - 9 October 2013)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1167, (3 - 9 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Sudan’s regime teeters

The Sudanese people have learned more than to eat hot dogs. Al-Bashir must go, writes Asmaa El-Husseini

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Huge numbers of Sudanese have poured into the streets to brave live ammunition. Spilt blood further stokes revolutionary fervour against Omar Al-Bashir’s regime. Al-Bashir is in a state of denial, indifferent to or unaware of the gravity of the situation as he escalates his use of violence and repression against peaceful demonstrators. Until Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, 210 people had been killed according to reliable sources in Khartoum. The number far exceeds the official figure. Hundreds more have been wounded and arrested.
The uprising began as a protest against rampant inflation. Though there have been other protests over the last two years, they were all ruthlessly suppressed. The latest demonstrations are the most determined and widespread. A broad away of syndicates, political parties and civil society associations have joined in the dissent.
As the movement built up it voiced ever more sweeping condemnations of regime policies that led to the secession of South Sudan two years ago and which continue to fuel wars and unrest throughout the country, in Darfur, South Kordofan, the Blue Nile, East, North and Central Sudan. There is little hope of national reconciliation and no sign of democratic transformation. Inflation and unemployment are soaring and the Sudanese pound has plummeted. Corruption is rampant and the income gap between the ruling class and the vast majority of people who live below the poverty line is more glaring than ever.
“The Sudanese people have gone out to protest because they feel their dignity has been trampled underfoot,” Sudanese journalist and political activist Rabah Al-Sadek tells Al-Ahram Weekly. “Outrage has been stirred by remarks by Al-Bashir to the effect that under his rule the people have learned to eat hot dogs and pizza from Pizza Hut. Al-Bashir and the leaders of his party have no conception of the suffering of the people. This was made very clear during the recent floods when they left people to drown.”
The regime in Khartoum, which has ruled Sudan with Islamist rubric and a relentless iron fist for a quarter of century, is determined to do whatever it takes to halt the outpouring of anger. Yet to most observers it appears the regime has lost all legitimacy. Few are taken in by allegations that the unrest is being fomented by saboteurs and agents in the pay of foreign powers.
The regime’s minister of information was at a loss for words during a press conference when young Sudanese journalist Bahram Abdel-Moneim asked: “Why do you insist on lying when it is clear that the snipers of the General Conference [Al-Bashir’s party] are the ones who are killing the demonstrators? Why do you persist in holding on to power over the corpses of the victims?”
The press conference was brought to an abrupt halt as the brave young journalist was arrested. Although he was later released censorship remains strict. It is impossible to write or speak with any degree of freedom about the current situation. Some Sudanese newspapers have opted to shut themselves down. The authorities, meanwhile, sealed off the offices of Al-Arabiya and Sky News networks, interrupted the Internet services, and continue to keep journalists under surveillance.
Such measures, though, cannot bury the truth. Sudanese activists are disseminating updates through voice and image via their cellphones. Webpages and social networking sites have also been instrumental in exposing the crimes the regime has perpetrated in the course of its brutal repression of peaceful demonstrators and in revealing the depth of popular anger that has broken the barrier of fear instilled when a military coup against democracy in 1989 brought the current regime to power.
The regime never tolerated opposition. On coming to power it flung open the doors of the prisons — which became known as “ghost houses” — to welcome its opponents. It proceeded to consolidate its control through its intelligence agencies, militias and the notorious Public Order Agency tasked with the surveillance and infiltration of political parties, NGOs, youth movements, universities, syndicates and any other entity the regime feared might threaten its perpetuity. Expenditure on assorted security agencies, on whatever it took to purchase loyalty, and on the regime’s endless wars against its own people in the east, south, north and west of the country ate the bulk of the national budget, impoverishing the country and eventually forcing the government to end subsidies.
In his most recent speech Al-Bashir said that secession of the South had harmed the economy. Not that long ago he was telling people that the south was a burden on the economy and that after its secession the north would keep three-quarters of oil production. Many at the time believed that Al-Bashir, who is on the International Criminal Court’s most wanted list for his crimes against humanity in Darfur, was using the south as a bargaining chip to stay in power. Certainly, there has been no sign of the “plenty” he promised.
“What happened to the billions of dollars in oil revenues that accrued in the past?” asks Othman Saleh. “Why did they ignore the agricultural sector in a country that could become the breadbasket of the Arab world? Why are the Sudanese people today destitute and living on hand-outs and humanitarian relief?”
Refaat Al-Amin argues that the regime’s policies, in making Sudan unstable, drove away entrepreneurs and investments and “now the regime wants us to pay the price for their corruption, injustice and incompetence”.
Al-Hussein Abbas agrees. “Every sister state or friend of Sudan has grown hostile because of the policies of this crude regime which has done everything possible to make enemies. No one will give it grants, aid or other financial assistance when it will only use them to kill more of its people and ignite more wars.”
On a different note, Ihab Mohamed tells the Weekly that he and his family are very worried. “As much as I sympathise with the peaceful demonstrators and their just demands, I believe they are incapable of taking on a regime that controls all the keys to the state. Also, to the regime and its supporters, this is a life-or-death battle. The situation will not be easy at all. Either the uprising will be put down or the country will plunge into civil war.”
 There are several possible scenarios. One, of course, is that the uprising will be suppressed, the scenario that the regime has been pushing for with its militias, its brutal violence against defenceless citizens, its terror tactics and ruses to incite racial and sectarian divides, the pressures it is bringing to bear on politicians and the propaganda it disseminates through the otherwise stifled media.
Yet several factors diminish the likelihood of this scenario playing out, among them the fact that the uprising has no readily identifiable leadership that the government can pressure, blackmail or buy off. More important, perhaps, is the size, scope and vigour of a movement that is gaining impetus by the day, attracting more and more people. Some are demonstrating because they fear that the regime’s policies have brought the country to the brink of disaster and it is no longer possible to remain silent. Others are out there because they feel they have nothing more to lose. Many political parties have joined the movement, calling on their members to take part in the revolution and sustain the marches and demonstrations.
The Sudanese today are more conscious than ever of the sanctity of their blood as a single people and, hence, of the need to counter the regime’s ploys to divide and conquer them by fuelling racial and sectarian divides. The Al-Bashir regime and its propaganda machine were notorious in their use of racist propaganda to prepare the ground for the secession of the South and to justify its war in Darfur.
The revolution is also beginning to win support among Sudan’s upper class. The recent death of the physician Dr Salah Sanhouri, a member of a prominent and wealthy Khartoum family, sent shockwaves through the Sudanese capital. His funeral reverberated with cries for the fall of the regime. Participants in the funeral procession drove away Nafie Ali Nafie, assistant to the president.
More ominous for the regime and its chances of quelling the anti-Bashir movement is that the wave of anger and discontent has reached beyond the ranks of the opposition into Islamist circles and even the ruling party, as witnessed by the protest memorandum signed by 31 Islamist leaders, including Ghazi Salaheddin. The memorandum called on the president to revoke unjust economic decrees, to halt police repression, investigate the deaths it has caused and to search for consensus. The ruling party initially denied receiving the memorandum. Later it vowed to punish those who had signed it.
A second scenario is that the popular uprising turns into a full-fledged revolution that sweeps away the ruling regime. The chances of this appear remote given the brutality and tenacity of the regime.
A third possibility is that the four armed resistance movements that have combined to form the Revolutionary Front join the popular uprising in order to protect the people. Given the tenacity of the regime and its militias this carries a risk of propelling the country to civil war, international intervention or a scenario similar to that in Syria.
The fourth scenario is that the regime changes from within, by means of a palace or military coup, or else is replaced by an Islamist force from outside the regime. Several months ago there was a foiled coup attempt spearheaded by former chief of intelligence General Salah Gosh and a number of Islamist military leaders. Some observers believe that if such a scenario were to occur it could set the country on the course of constructive change.
A fifth scenario — that Al-Bashir voluntarily steps down or offers substantial concessions — is highly unlikely. He is determined to remain in power and remains wanted by the International Criminal Court. Neither he nor his cronies has anything new to offer and even if they did the opposition and a broad swath of public opinion has lost all trust in them.  (see p.15)

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