Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Bashir’s scenarios

One more push from the protest movement could change Sudan’s political equations completely,  writes Salah Khalil

Al-Ahram Weekly

Sudan may have calmed visibly, but it is still roiling beneath the surface. Soaring prices, triggered by the lifting of subsidies on fuel and foodstuffs, have not gone away. Sudan is under pressure from the IMF and other international funding agencies to restructure its economy. The country’s other political crises have grown more acute, sharpening the polarisation between the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and peaceful and militant opposition forces. Such tensions are a major obstacle to the restoration of stability in Sudan.
The government’s brutal suppression of the popular protests that swept the country for over two weeks stirred international condemnation. The wave of demonstrations and unrest was the most powerful and widespread protest movement that the regime in Khartoum had ever encountered. Moreover, the protests, sparked by the government’s decision to lift subsidies, were spontaneous and amorphous in terms of demographic and political composition. No political party, ideological camp or syndicate movement can claim that it organised or led the demonstrations. But this did not prevent authorities from tightening restrictions on the press and political and syndicate activity.
The demonstrations did not change the government and they failed to alter its declared economic policy. But this does not signify that the wave of peaceful protests is over. The government’s brutal machine of repression may have caused a lull, but the protests may flare again and in ways that may take the NCP by surprise. The lull does not signify that the revolution has been quelled. The causes that fuelled it persist and popular anger continues to seethe. It may explode at any time, and perhaps in a more violent way that will be difficult for authorities to quash.
Recent events caused prices of commodities in the market to double while average purchasing power has been further eroded by the lack of liquidity. The more than two-week long protests brought the economy to a near total paralysis. It affected all service, business and production sectors, and many markets were forced to close.
The protests cast into relief mounting political conflicts between the centre and periphery, as was manifest in heightened tensions in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Against the backdrop of deteriorating economic circumstances in the country, opposition movements in those provinces called on the people to take to the streets until the government falls. The Kauda Coalition said that if the protest movements continued throughout the country, other fronts would join the fight to bring down the regime. It appears, therefore, that the spectre of war looms. What are the possible scenarios for the forthcoming phase?
One is that the NCP will remain as tenacious as ever in its determination to monopolise power and exclude all other political forces, citing its well-worn pretexts of the “legitimacy” of the current constitutional arrangements and the results of general elections in April 2010. It will also resort to its familiar tactics of repression and political manoeuvring. But the regime was clearly shaken by the recent events, which exacerbated internal tensions in the NCP. The rifts are beginning to show, and it is not unlikely that some first tier leaders will break away from the party in order to distance themselves from its reputation for brutality and hostility to the people.
Certainly, more would jump ship if the wave of protests rises again and the regime begins to teeter, a prospect that cannot be ruled out in light of the economic deterioration and decline in the government’s oil revenues and the ruling party’s inability to sustain the balances, alliances and forces it needs to counter its adversaries. The NCP cannot sail against the winds and there will come a point when it will no longer be able to fall back on its tired ruses.
Few are taken in anymore by the claim that the international community supports the civil and military opposition’s campaign to bring down the regime. The international community’s aims and objectives shift constantly in tandem with the situation on the ground. Nor will the NCP be able to depend on the regionally and internationally sponsored Doha Agreement on Darfur. There, too, the ruling party had miscalculated. The wars in the south of the Blue Nile and Kordofan are still raging and the factions in Darfur that are most influential on the ground never signed the Doha Agreement.
A second scenario is for the Kauda Coalition to enter the fray alongside the peaceful opposition through guerrilla operations or a concerted march into the capital. Still, the armed struggle will be unable to obtain its objective — the fall of the regime — without the support of all political forces that seek change. This includes the various Islamist forces. This is, perhaps, the only scenario that can spare Sudan from the slide into chaos as it will prevent the collapse of the state while, theoretically, paving the way for a peaceful democratic transformation based on consensus. Such a process would have to bring onboard all political forces, without exclusion. Thus, NCP members would work alongside the forces for change, youth coalitions and other segments of society to effect the transition from a single party power monopoly to political plurality and the citizen state that respects diversity.
The US administration, meanwhile, hopes that the protest movement succeeds in overthrowing the Al-Bashir regime non-violently, and it has signalled its readiness to support peaceful change. However, Barack Obama’s handling of recent events in Sudan has stirred criticism among some lobbying groups in Washington and has disappointed Sudanese who had hoped that Washington would condemn the brutality that the Al-Bashir regime unleashed against peaceful pro-democracy forces and call for international measures to be taken to arrest him.
Pressure groups in the US accused the administration of striking an immoral parity between the government and protesters in Sudan when it called on “all parties” there to exercise restraint. Such language, critics argue, holds demonstrators equally responsible for the violence and murder, whereas Washington should unequivocally condemn the Khartoum regime’s anti-democratic policies.
However, because Khartoum has acquired some strategic importance to Washington in its war against terror, especially now that Omar Al-Bashir has become more cooperative on this question, the US administration feels it must reward Khartoum in order to ensure its logistical support. Also, the US administration believes that the current regime is the best available option at present. Overthrowing it means having to look for an alternative and it sees no viable one among the peaceful opposition forces, or in the militant opposition movements in Darfur.
Observers do not expect the Sudanese street to remain calm for long. The sources of discontent are only likely to grow more acute as the tangible repercussions of the lifting of subsidies have yet to be felt. At the same time, the government appears to have no vision for addressing the array of worsening political and economic crises that have plagued the country since the secession of South Sudan and the transfer of control over what had been Khartoum’s most important economic staple — oil — to Juba.
The authorities are rounding up youth leaders. But their movement will give birth to new ones who will regenerate the energies of the grassroots protest movements. The next time they will be supported by other forces that had not been active before, prime among whom will be the families of the victims of the regime’s brutality. Also the new wave will be all the more powerful as the people have broken the fear barrier. The regime had once wielded this weapon skillfully, but it has lost its efficacy now that people are willing to defy death.

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