Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 18 January 2019

Sudan’s uprising is putting the future of al-Bashir’s rule at stake


By Adil Babikir

The buzzword in Sudan these days is tasgut bass. The catchphrase, which translates into “you must go, no matter what”, is echoing in demonstrations across the country calling on President al-Bashir to step down in what is believed to be the most serious challenge to his 30 –year rule.

When the Islamists in Sudan seized power in a military coup in June 1989, they wasted no time to demonstrate that they had come to stay. From torturing opponents in the infamous “ghost houses” to seeding loyal elements in strategic positions in the army and the civil service and driving thousands of citizens into joblessness or to exile, that message kept coming clear and consistent.

Their ruthless response to the first military challenge they faced after roughly one year in power showed beyond doubt that they were prepared to break all ethical norms and cross all red lines to maintain their grip on power. In the aftermath of an abortive coup in 1990, as many as 28 senior military officers were brutally slain on the eve of a religious festival marking the end of Muslims’ fasting month of Ramadan.

In the midst of shock over the heinous massacre, a jubilant militant leader, mocking opponents, said those dreaming of the regime’s demise would have to wait for Jesus Christ. He was referring to Jesus Christ’s anticipated return from Heaven just ahead of the Day of Judgment to defeat evil and establish his reign of justice and peace.

Yet that confidence is being put to a tough test by the mounting waves of protests that have swept the country since mid-December with thousands taking to the streets in most cities and towns. Although triggered by a throttling scarcity of basic consumer goods, the demonstrations almost immediately adopted political slogans demanding nothing less than the removal of al-Bashir and his regime.

The current demonstrations are unprecedented, in terms of scale, persistence, intensity, and geographical reach. While the centre stage of the two previous uprisings of October 1964 and April 1985, which toppled two dictatorships, was the capital Khartoum, the current one erupted first in the City of Atbara, an important railway junction with a strong track-record in the struggle for independence and the creation of workers trade unions. Revolt quickly spread to most major cities, but it was the capital, Khartoum, that saw the most violent confrontations which left dozens of innocent citizens dead, hundreds injured and thousands imprisoned in security cells.

While riot police used mainly teargas to disperse demonstrators, and some of them did not fail to show sympathy with the demonstrators, the killings were carried out by snipers positioned on building roofs and others on the ground camouflaged as demonstrators. Those snipers are widely believed to be elements of the regime’s special militias, the well-trained para-military forces whose main role is to protect the regime. This belief gained significant credence last week when Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, the militant Islamist and former First Vice President, warned the demonstrators on TV that the regime is protected by “shadow militias, who are willing and eager to sacrifice their lives.”

Taha’s threats only sparked more rage. The next day, Omdurman, the “national capital”, saw some of the strongest demonstrations so far in the past four weeks. And the momentum is building up, with simultaneous rallies staged in many cities across the country. In Omdurman, Khartoum North, and other cities, young demonstrators chased by riot forces into the narrow alleys were received with cheers and ululations from ladies and led into the houses where they were served freshly cooked hot meals and cold drinks.

Women have been showing a particularly strong presence in the current showdown. Social media is replete with video footages showing women on the front lines chanting revolutionary slogans, singing patriotic lyrics, and physically taking part in the street fights.

A strong sense of unity and solidarity has been building up across the country, fueled by the regime’s ruthlessness and the people’s aspirations to break away from the yoke of al-Bashir’s regime.

The revolutionary mood is at its peak. New patriotic songs are hitting the social media platforms every day. Some of these are originally folkloric wedding songs reworded with the themes of the revolution.

We can’t live apart anymore, sweetheart
Your love is running in my blood streams

This romantic stanza, for instance, was readapted into a revolutionary song:
No backing off, sweetheart
Together we will knock out
The custodians of poverty and hunger

Fervent slogans have turned into hits in demonstrations, on social media, and in the mouths of children. Slogans like tasqut buss and “the people want to topple the regime” reflect utter frustration and determination to kick off al-Bashir and his regime.

With popular rage only intensifying and demonstrations showing no signs of abatement despite the use of excessive force, the embattled regime seems paralyzed and running out of options. The regime’s reaction has so far been a heavy hand and propaganda. They started with labelling the demonstrators as traitors and mercenaries and then followed with highly publicized announcements of the involvement of a Darfur armed movement in the events. Ironically, their claims were quickly defeated by their own action on the street.

The picture remains unclear within the inner circle of power. President al-Bashir has been running across the length and breadth of the country in a fervent bid to show that he is in control. Hastily arranged gatherings in Geneina in the west and earlier at Alsaha Alkhadraa (Green Square) in Khartoum turned up only mediocre crowds compared to the thundering protests everywhere else.

Meanwhile, a heated debate has been raging on WhatsApp among the Islamists and those loyal to the ruling National Congress Party. The Islamists had been the backbone of the regime before it broke up into two factions, with Hassan al-Turabi, their ideologue and the mastermind behind the 1989 coup, losing grounds to al-Bashir. The latter went about to consolidate his power with the help of his strong security apparatus and militias, including the infamous Janjaweed.

The debate shows a once solid base in a significant state of disarray. Many of the Islamists who had been disillusioned by al-Bashir’s policies are voicing frustration and scolding the regime for its mismanagement and corruption- and now for killing peaceful demonstrators.

As the showdown continues, there is mounting pressure on al-Bashir. Time seems to be in the protestors’ favour, but the final outcome depends on their ability to stay the course and keep the momentum. The scene is open to many scenarios. One thing is certain, however: resentment for al-Bashir’s regime has reached unprecedented levels and popular rage has crossed the point of no return. One wonders if any of the Islamists in power today still believes that the next successor to their regime is Jesus Christ.

* Adil Babikir is a UK-based Sudanese translator

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