Sudan: Not As Stable as Bashir Thought
By: Jomana Farhat
Published Thursday, June 28, 2012
A few months ago, the Sudanese government lived in a fortified tower. At least that was the impression given by its officials. No fear of popular protests or demonstrations. On the contrary, they were confident about the way things were going in the country, based on local and regional events.
Regionally, the uprisings in Egypt and Libya ousted two of the Salvation regime’s biggest adversaries. Internally, the absence of any real popular reaction to the separation of South Sudan, entailing the loss of vast areas of the country with all their oil resources, was the most reassuring indication. It prompted the Sudanese president, Omar Al-Bashir to declare confidently: “If the people were to rise against me, I will come out to them and they can pelt me with stones.” Following which, his government launched severe austerity measures, sparking anger among the people and compelling them to go out into the streets.
Bashir did not fulfill his promise. In fact, as popular demonstrations entered their second week, he did the opposite. His speech on Sunday showed that he had learned nothing from the protests in neighboring countries. He rejected the protests, accusing “some agitators” of instigating them, instead of admitting the people’s right to demonstrate, particularly when the economic situation is deteriorating and austerity measures have been imposed.
Of course, Bashir took the opportunity to speak of a conspiracy against the country, calling people to resist it, “to set up training camps and not to be passive, because the conspiracy against the country continues.” Bashir acted in the same way as all the Arab presidents who chose to challenge the protesters, accusing them of being “rats,” “gangs” or “misguided groups.”
In an interview with Al-Akhbar, the Sudanese analyst, Khaled Al-Tijani, said that Bashir’s speech was an expression of weakness, coming a few months after the Sudanese president had been exaggerating his confidence that the situation in the country was stable. Tijani explains that Bashir’s speech seemed to intensify the confrontation with the street, pointing out that this time the President knows that the situation has changed and that the challenge is real, but this has made his tone more hostile. He adds: “Unfortunately, it seems that the situation in Sudan is a carbon copy of the events of the past two years in the Arab world, where revolutions have been born out of small protests because the authorities failed to contain them.”
Tijani points out that the problem is not the demonstrations, because the reasons behind those are to do with the situation, the result of unbearable economic conditions. The real problem lies with the government, which instead of anticipating this situation and attempting to adjust the imbalance resulting from their poor administration and policies, chose to lay the burden of the consequences on the people, making them pay the price with overwhelming austerity measures.
Under these circumstances, Sudan is likely to face two possible scenarios: the first depends on the ability of the government to cooperate with some of the opposition and strike a deal whereby reforms are introduced and some of the severe austerity measures are reversed, hopefully absorbing the anger of the street. This scenario does not seem impossible, because so far the number of people taking part in the demonstrations is still relatively small and no firm positions have been taken by the opposition against the regime. However, the government might not be up to the challenge of reform, particularly when the experience of the last few years has shown that the state has over-inflated government jobs. This is because government positions were seen as the best way to appease members of the ruling party and the adversaries that the authorities succeeded in attracting. However, as part of the latest austerity measures, the government has had to reduce the number of these positions.
As for the second scenario, the demonstrations could spread, with more people joining them at a rapid pace. This seems likely because lawyers have declared that they have joined the protests. In this case, the regime will not be able to contain the protests without loss of life. The regime would then face an overwhelming wave of anger and it will not be able to stand up to it for long. This is because Sudan has a long experience of revolution, where the more blood was shed, the more determined the protesters became.
In this context, Tijani believes that there are several factors that could help the second scenario along. The National Conference Party is experiencing an internal crisis among its various currents which complicates any move towards reform. Some of its leaders have been tightening their grip on government posts for over twenty years, making any rejuvenation of the leadership impossible.
As for the opposition, Tijani describes it as weak, and believes that it is the other face of the crisis of governance in Sudan, which is a pathetic and weak regime. He thinks that it can fuel the protests, but he does not think it likely that it can become an inspiration or a leader of the vanguard.
The daughter of the leader of the Ummah Party, Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, told Al-Akhbar that Sudan is in a very dangerous position. She spoke about extreme political anger which has prompted several groups to take up arms against the state, demanding their rights. She points out that this anger has exploded into wars when there is economic failure. It is aggravated by the government’s misguided policies which made the economy completely dependent on the oil in the South. She explains that the government tried to remove subsidies from basic commodities, which caused unprecedented rises in prices, affecting the people, who were already poor.
Mahdi says that, in addition, the government has refused to carry out any real review of its measures and policies for the past few years, when it was spending billions of pounds on providing luxuries for the top officials. Therefore, Mahdi believes that the explosion can only be defused through a comprehensive and radical reform within a new political horizon.
She warns that the cosmetic reforms which the regime is used to offering will not work this time and will just lead to more anger. But Mahdi emphasizes the importance of this goal being achieved peacefully and consensually. She believes that Bashir’s regime has to hand over authority to the people and the broad factions, so that they can be part of the change. This coincides with her party’s declaration of support for the citizens’ constitutional right to demonstrate and to resist the rise in prices.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.