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Protests Continue in Sudan

Student anti-austerity demonstrations have developed into demands for regime change.
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President Al-Bashir. Photograph by Sebastian Baryli.

Khartoum, Sudan:

Street demonstrations in Sudan have now stretched into their fourth consecutive week. Seemingly inspired by past revolts against dictatorship in 1964 and 1985, Sudanese protestors are now demonstrating against what they see as their government’s tyranny and economic incompetence.

Since South Sudan seceded a year ago, Sudan’s economy has suffered. Food prices have soared, the currency has weakened, and the government has enforced spending cuts. This has been exacerbated by the loss of approximately three-quarters of the country’s oil output to South Sudan.

On June 16, students from the University of Khartoum led anti-austerity protests. Protests against spending cuts, however, soon extended out beyond Khartoum and evolved into broader demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir’s 23-year-old regime. Demonstrations became a daily occurrence at both public and private universities, and despite the police’s heavy-handed response of beatings, teargas and arrests, dissent has grown.

Now into its fourth week, ordinary citizens tired of deteriorating conditions in their country are taking to the streets alongside students, members of youth movements and opposition parties, and civil society activists, to chant against the government.

Growing protests

The largest protests often begin from mosques after Friday prayers, with each week’s demonstration accorded a different theme. Past Fridays have been labelled ‘Sandstorm Friday’, ‘Elbow Licking Friday’ (in reference to a remark by one of Al-Bashir's advisors that those who want to overthrow regime have a better chance of licking their elbows) and ‘Outcasts Friday’ (referring to Al-Bashir's recent speech in which he called protesters ‘outcasts’). Today’s, planned as ‘Kandaka Friday’, is dedicated to the revolutionary women of Sudan.

A 22-year-old protester who wished not to be named recounted the events of July 6’s ‘Outcasts Friday’ at the Wad Nubawi mosque in Omdurman to Think Africa Press. “Right after the prayers we started chanting inside the mosque” he explained, “then we made our way into the big yard in front of the mosque.

“The number of protesters was around 2,000. It lasted for less than ten minutes, after which security forces came in great numbers and began cracking down on the protest. They fired heavy teargas and rubber bullets at us. We had to go back inside the mosque; but we protested inside and continued chanting against the regime. They then began firing teargas inside the mosque and it went on for hours, leaving many of us suffocated.”

He continued: "Many injuries occurred, some were treated at the back of the mosque, and some were taken to a hospital. Right at the time of Al-Asr prayer, police surrounded the mosque from all sides and started firing teargas and rubber bullets again. No one was allowed in or out, even the injured people."

He notes that the protesters attempted to block the security forces' entrance into the mosque and threw rocks at them. "By dusk they had left and we started cleaning the mosque which looked like a battlefield. After the Maghrib prayer we left the mosque in groups to avoid getting arrested. Some were arrested though – at least ten people.”

Government response

Since the start of the demonstrations four weeks ago, security forces have arrested and detained thousands of protesters and activists to date. And reports suggest that behind the doors of the National Intelligence and Security Service’s notorious "ghost houses", beatings, interrogations, and food and sleep deprivation are not unusual.

But as the clampdown continues so does the determination of activists to liberate their country from the President al-Bashir’s National Congress Party. Youth movements on the ground such as Girifna and Sudan Change Now are using social media to spread the word on the Sudanese uprising and call on the masses to join the protests. And, in the face of attempts by the government to impose a media black-out, activists, bloggers, journalists and demonstrators have been risking their safety to report on events on the ground.

It has now almost been a month since a potentially revolutionary tide started to sweep across Sudan. Thousands remain incarcerated by Sudan's intelligence services and hundreds await trial for attending the protests, while others have been sentenced to pay fines and or have been lashed.

President al-Bashir has dismissed the possibility the protests will follow in the footsteps of the north African revolutions of 2011, and has insisted that the level of the protests have reduced. However, some of Sudan's most highly respected intellectuals such as Magdi El Gizouli, as well as bloggers, activists, opposition parties, students and professionals seem to be remaining optimistic about the possibility of forcing Sudan's third revolution.

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