People in Sudan have been protesting for weeks against Omar al-Bashir’s repressive dictatorship.
So far the biggest protests took place on the anniversary of the coup which brought the National Islamic Front to power on 30 June 1989.
More than 1,000 protesters were detained and hundreds were injured on these “licking your elbow” demonstrations. Activists named the protests after one presidential aide said getting rid of Bashir was as impossible as “licking your elbow”.
The wave of protests had begun two weeks earlier in opposition to austerity measures the government had just introduced. But to really understand the current struggle we need to look at the history of the regime.
Behind its Islamic ideology is neoliberalism. Unions and political parties have no space to organise. The party has become the state and the state the party.
The regime opened the economy to privatisation. Some 100,000 public sector workers were sacked between 1989 and 1992 as all opposition and secular elements were forced out. The government outlawed trade unions. Union leaders were killed and tortured at the hands of security forces.
The current uprising comes out of years of repression, injustice and a war that led to the south splitting off last year to form a separate country, South Sudan. The government’s war in the south was waged against what it first called “communism” but later called the enemy “crusaders”.
Sudan became an oil exporter after 2000. Oil has transformed how outside powers view the country—particularly the US and China. When the south separated it took most of the oil producing areas.
The border is still disputed and fighting continues in the oil-producing Blue Nile state. The civil war has also continued in the Nuba mountains and Darfur, creating more misery and refugees.
Almost all the government’s income before the split came from oil. Its reduced revenue must still cover the cost of the military and the little that is left goes to corrupt government and party officials. This means that the world economic crisis has hit Sudan very harshly.
Health care is in disarray. The government has imposed a policy that means patients in A&E won’t be treated if they can’t afford to pay.
Students face university closures and the threat of arrest and expulsion if they protest. Yet they are taking over student unions from government factions.
People have resisted throughout the past 23 years, but both the government and international forces have created divisions among the opposition.
Today’s struggle is more problematic for the government. It can be a real threat if students, workers and the unemployed work together.
The youth are leading the revolution. The spark for the current uprising was at the University of Khartoum. Youth groups are organising through social media.
The brave activists fighting back are impatient and lack experience. Sometimes they try to copy tactics from the Egyptian Revolution.
But without knowing how the Egyptians related to different sections of society they risk isolating themselves from workers and ordinary people.
The government may still get out of this crisis. It could yet manage to repress the movement or do a deal with the biggest right wing party, Umma, that will bring the movement down. The opposition must escalate their protests.
Osama Zumam is a Sudanese activist who lives in Britain. Go to menasolidaritynetwork.com for details on how to help the revolt.