By Mohamed Elshabik
September 26, 2013 - The hubris of leadership may yet prove to be the Achilles heel in Sudan where the recent outbreak of demonstrations was triggered by the announcement of oil price increases, deceptively described as ‘cuts to fuel subsidies’. The spark, however, came after the provoking presidential press conference in Khartoum on the 22nd of September. This conference, which was held by the President and not the Minister of Finance, was thought to present brilliant presidential arguments on the economic crisis and the austerity measures his government intends to implement. Instead, the sitting president, who has been in command for 24 years, turned it into a chat-type conference where he told personal stories to an audience of journalists, most of them aligned to his National Congress Party (NCP), who seemed charmed by tales of the president’s bravery and sense of humour.
The scattered demonstrations which first began in Wad Madani, the capital of Al-Jazeera state, have grown and spread geographically to reach Khartoum and other cities in Sudan, along with calls for strikes and civil disobedience. The security forces response to the protests was extreme force with live bullets. It is quite interesting to note the limited use of tear gas in the current and ongoing protests; historically, these are usually the first deterrent used by police forces to disperse demonstrations. Instead, the live bullets used have so far caused the confirmed death of 32 protesters on Tuesday and Wednesday the 24th and 25th of September. Unconfirmed figures reported more than 100 deaths between Wad Madani and Khartoum. The use of live bullets is a sign of who is behind the deadly assaults on civilian protesters: Bashir’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) that was built for such times to be responsible for suppressing any dissent and to protect the ruling party. The number of the death tolls reported in Sudan in those two days provides evidence of how the 80% of Sudan’s budget spend on security forces, is paying dividends for the regime.
So far, the protestors have achieved moderate victories; but most importantly, as the fear barrier crumbles, people feel they have nothing to lose, and that a failed, corrupt state is the harvest of 24 years of NCP rule. The people of Sudan have suffered enough from the ruling Islamic party and its president. The failure in running the country has gone far beyond tolerance level, and people in Sudan feel alienated. The struggle now is between the Sudanese and a dictatorship consisting of a president wanted internationally for war crimes in Darfur, and a corrupt party of opportunists who have just extended the president’s mandate as their only possible candidate for the next presidential election in 2015.
Protests in Khartoum and other towns and regions throughout Sudan are growing in numbers. The risk is that there is no clear leadership directing the protests. The traditional opposition parties are effectively in alignment with government. One would have thought that they would seize the opportunity to organize, give directions and provide leadership for the volatile crowds in the streets. This has not happened. NCP checks are paying off. Opposition parties are still waiting for the dust to settle to see which side to take.
With the current status quo and the absence of clear leadership, the NCP is playing the fear card. Pro-NCP militias are intent on breaking up the protests and are said to be setting fire to petrol stations and to some public and private properties. Their approach is to send a message to the citizens of Khartoum that the choice is between chaos or the NCP, which may be expensive but is a haven of stability.
Realizing also the pertinent impact of social media, the government disabled internet facilities sporadically in the first two days of protests. The service is often on for only a short time to enable the NCP to complete their transactions. Activists in Sudan need other options to be able to confront the NCP’s dodgy tactics.
The world has long struggled for a solution to Sudan’s apparently intractable problems under NCP rule. Current protests in Khartoum should represent a golden opportunity for a better and more stable future not only for Sudan but for the entire region. Different leadership could bring about the much needed peace with South Sudan and provide a glimmer of hope for Sudan’s other governance problems.
?With the growth of defiance on the streets, protesters and activists in Sudan need protection, media coverage, and international pressure on the Khartoum government to stop killing its people.
The ongoing defiance in Khartoum will be fought and won by Sudanese, but the world needs to support these protests with every possible means. Internet connections are vital, and alternative sources are required as intensive media coverage is what the Sudanese rely on. Al Jazeera TV, widely watched in Sudan and in the region, has limited coverage of the protests in Sudan. This does not come as a surprise as the relation between the Islamist junta ruling in Sudan and the Qatri leadership is strong and dynamic. Qatar is seen as one of few remaining allies of the Khartoum regime. An alternative source of media coverage is required.
International human rights organizations should watch closely the reports of killings and human right abuses in Khartoum. With no deterrent, security forces in Sudan have shown no mercy in what they are capable of doing. Bashir and his NCP need to be forced to respect the people’s right to protest and make their voices heard. It is high time to help Sudanese break the vicious cycle of violence in Sudan.
Mohamed Elshabik is a Sudanese International Social Worker, he publishes his opinions at his blog - http://elshabik.blogspot.com/ - and other Sudanese forums. He can be reached at: email@example.com