Students Stand Strong in Sudan Protests

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The government had clearly not been expecting the university to become a focus of the protests after they broke out in June, believing that students affiliated to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) had the campus under control. (Photo: AFP - Simon Martelli)

By: Jaafar al-Sirr

Published Monday, July 16, 2012

The students of Khartoum University have historically been at the forefront of popular uprisings in Sudan. They were standard-bearers of both the October 1964 revolution that toppled the regime of General Ibrahim Abboud – which was sparked by protests against the killing of a student – and the May 1985 revolution that deposed Jaafar al-Nimairy.

Khartoum - Since the wave of anti-regime protests began in Sudan last month, members of the police central reserve and anti-riot police have been camped out under the shade of the trees in the northern corner of the courtyard of Khartoum University mosque, starting-point for many of the demonstrations.

At quiet times, a casual passerby might think their presence benign. But the illusion is quickly dispelled whenever students gather to demonstrate, and the baton-wielders move in for another round of violent crowd control.

Between bouts, the police, along with plain-clothes security men, lounge around reading magazines and newspapers (variety and sports – never politics), or pass their time ogling the women students as they enter and leave the campus.

But this entertainment may soon be denied them, if reports are confirmed that the authorities are planning to shut down Khartoum University. According to reports on social networking sites, the university’s president, al-Tayyeb Hayati, submitted his resignation to President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday after he refused to obey an order from the head of the National Security and Intelligence Agency and close the university indefinitely and send students home from their dormitories.

This followed the holding on Wednesday of the biggest demonstration to date outside Khartoum University.

The government had clearly not been expecting the university to become a focus of the protests after they broke out in June, believing that students affiliated to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) had the campus under control. They currently run the student council, having won its last elections in a vote many believed was rigged.

When this expectation proved misplaced, NCP student leaders were summoned to the party’s headquarters for a dressing-down by officials for their failure to prevent the spread of student protests, despite the curbs already in place. As in the country at large, restrictions on freedom of political action within the universities are tightened whenever the level of engagement with national issues rises among students.

According to one student leader, representatives of the various political forces active on campus decided Thursday to hold simultaneous discussion sessions in all the university’s colleges. A so-called “revolution corner” has been established in each college, after the authorities banned students from holding discussion sessions at a central meeting-point near the faculty of arts and the security forces barred them from doing so on the main university road. This had previously been dubbed “revolution corner,” where a succession of speakers from the various opposition parties would come to address students.

On Wednesday, however, when students marched out of the campus, chanting peacefully for freedom and the downfall of the regime, the security forces weighed in with barrages of tear-gas. They concentrated on the area near the main gate, then spread out in large numbers to prevent students leaving the campus.

Police proceeded to surround the university and block all exits as the protestors took refuge inside the campus. According to student sources, the authorities told the university that students would be allowed out via specified “safe passages,” but they refused, and demanded that the police withdraw. Eventually, just before sundown, they were ordered to pull back enabling the students to return to their homes.

But as the police withdrew, members of the ruling party’s student wing accompanied by pro-regime thugs – known as rabbata – deployed, wielding thick sticks and concrete blocks to confront emerging students. Gunfire was heard during the skirmishes that followed between NCP and pro-opposition students, many of whom sustained injuries.

One wounded student told Al-Akhbar he was badly beaten by a ruling party supporter, and his friends had to carry him to hospital.

But the students insist the intensified violence will not deter them from continuing their protests.

Even if the university is closed down, they say, there are plenty of other streets to take to in Khartoum.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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