On December 19th last, spontaneous protests broke out in Sudan’s main cities and towns, in opposition to further austerity measures by autocratic dictator, Omar al-Bashir.
The measure that sparked off this latest revolt was the government’s decision to raise the price of bread in the eastern city of Atbara. A single loaf would now cost the average citizen three pounds instead of the usual one pound. The hike in bread prices is just one of many austerity measures that have inflicted misery on the Sudanese people. There is also a severe lack of fuel and limits on how much an individual can withdraw from their bank account.
Years of sanctions imposed on Sudan by the West and the loss of three-quarters of its oil revenue after the secession of South Sudan in 2011 have decimated the economy. A bad situation has been made worse by the rampant corruption of al-Bashir and his ultra-Islamic National Congress Party. This became apparent as the focus of the protests rapidly shifted from an emphasis on bread prices to wide-ranging anti-government opposition. The people were staying on the streets to demand an end to the corruption, torture and tyranny of al-Bashir’s despotic reign. In the first few nights of the protests several buildings belonging to the ruling party were burned down.
In response to this show of open discontent and disregard for his authority, al-Bashir, who came to power in 1989 after a bloody coup, ordered his paramilitary forces and the state police to crack down on the protests. By December 22nd more than forty people were thought to have been slaughtered by the authorities, with hundreds more injured. Many others were arrested, including several members of the Sudanese Communist Party’s central committee.
A video posted online by the SCP on December 25th shows protesters in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, approaching distant police lines, who respond with teargas and live ammunition. The video cuts out as panic reigns within the crowd. In other SCP videos, the military can be seen stationed on rooftops holding assault rifles while protesters rallying in the streets below call them out as ‘snipers’ and ‘murderers’.
As the protests continued and spread to rural areas as well as other cities including Port Sudan, Omdurman, Atbara and Madani, the police responded with the same ruthlessness as they did in Khartoum. In multiple videos posted online by the SCP and individual activists, the police can be seen firing teargas and stun grenades at protesters. But the people unfazed regroup and continue to rally amid chants of ‘Freedom, peace, justice – revolution is our choice.’
After days of bloodshed and murder, al-Bashir responded to the popular masses by promising reforms, as is nearly always the case with dictators desperate to cling onto power. As was expected he has failed to implement any reforms whatsoever. The trade union coalition that has led the revolt have declared that the Sudanese people “have crossed the point of no return.”
In response to the crackdown on the protesters, including its own leaders and activists, the SCP called on “all fraternal parties to intensify their support initiatives as the struggle of our people reaches a new level. We urge the Sudanese people to continue their demonstrations until success is achieved by overthrowing the regime. We also call on all opposition parties to unite and work together to co-ordinate this movement.”
The world is now witnessing the largest peaceful mass movement since Sudan achieved independence in 1956. It has involved urban and rural Sudan, women, youth, students, professionals, political parties, civil society groups, and activists from all walks of life, including anti-dam and anti-land grabbing campaigns among others. The Sudanese masses have also expressed publicly, for the first time, their anger regarding the genocidal war crimes committed by the regime in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile as well as the responsibility of the regime for the secession of South Sudan.
Some Western media outlets have attempted to draw comparisons between the situation in Sudan and the the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. But this revolt is different. Many of the major forces that led the various Arab Spring uprisings were Islamist in nature. In Sudan, this revolution is being led by nationalist, democratic and left-wing forces. It is the anthesis of the Arab Spring. The absence of Islamist involvement, the mass participation of women and the discourse of embracing diversity, equal citizenship, anti-racism and other progressive factors attest to that.
As of now, the number of those murdered is estimated to be around fifty-two, with hundreds more injured and over two-thousand arrested. Footage of authorities attacking hospitals and health clinics to prevent protesters from accessing medical care and arresting the wounded is in widespread circulation. There are also reports that at least four detainees were tortured to death. Sourcing news from activists on the ground in Sudan has also become increasingly difficult. In the early stages of the protests the government cut social media access through the country's major service provider, but news from a small number of reliable sources has been trickling out over the internet.
Curfews have been issued across Sudan, with schools closed throughout the country. But the people undaunted continue to rally in the streets, ceaselessly demanding that al-Bashir steps down. In recent days he has restated that he will not step down, instead biding his time for Sudan’s presidential elections, due to take place next year. Even then it is unlikely he will step down. His party says they are going to try to get him re-elected as their leader so that he’ll be eligible to run in the presidential race.
The Sudanese diaspora all over the world, regardless of ethnicity, religion and regional bias have come together in large numbers in major global cities, including Dublin, to protest al-Bashir’s brutality and show solidarity with their fellow country women and men back home in Sudan
In response to the current situation in Sudan, the USA along with its allies in the European Union and NATO have been almost completely silent, save for empty rhetoric regarding right to peaceful protest and urging the Sudanese state to act responsibly. This is no surprise as Sudan, once an enemy of the capitalist hegemony, has now been co-opted as a useful pawn. In 2017, United States president Donald Trump lifted the decades old sanctions on Sudan as a reward for its participation in the Saudi-led devastation of Yemen. The EU has also donated millions to al-Bashir and his government, for helping to quell the flow of migrants and refugees through Sudanese territory.
The fact that the USA, NATO, the EU and their allies refuse to interfere is possibly the only saving grace in the current situation. As recent middle-eastern history teaches us, western intervention is closely followed by murder, chaos, civil war and failed states. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria stand as recent stark reminders to those resisting al-Bashir and his forces. The West are not friends of the Sudanese people, they are the harbingers of death for any progressive alternative to al-Bashir’s tyranny.
Trade unions, professional unions and progressive political party’s are already working collectively in Sudan, playing a crucial role in rallying opposition to the status quo. It must be hoped that this movement will be led by those whose vision for Sudan is one of sovereignty, liberty and socio-economic equality for all of its people. For if this movement is not truly homogenised and led by a progressive revolutionary force then any potential outcome will be one devoid of any actual gain, save for the switching of one tyranny for another.